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Toward balanced judiciary reform

May 26,2017
The court will be the next to undergo a reform wave after the state prosecution institution. Left-leaning justice Kim Yi-soo was nominated as chief justice to the Constitutional Court. A liberal judge who has been calling for reform in the criminal justice system was also recruited as the president’s senior secretary for legal affairs, a post traditionally reserved for former state prosecutors.

Judges across the nation are also expected to hold their first convention next month to stop the influence of the Supreme Court’s chief justice. In naming the senior secretary for legal affairs, the presidential office said President Moon Jae-in is intent in separating the powers of the chief Supreme Court justice and ensuring the sovereignty of the bench.

The bench will change over the next five years under President Moon. Of the 14 justices at the Supreme Court, 13 will be replaced, including the chief justice, whose term ends in September. Of the nine members on the Constitutional Court bench, eight will finish their terms. Naming a justice as head of the Constitutional Court who objected to the rulings of disbanding the leftist Unified Progressive Party and outlawing the teachers’ union, underscores Moon’s will to counterbalance the influence of conservatives in the highest courts.

Moon will name two Supreme Court justices at the recommendation of the chief justice to replace outgoing members. One vacancy in the Constitutional Court also needs to be filled. Leadership changes in the two highest courts could influence rulings and the overall establishment.

Kim Hyung-yun, presidential secretary for legal affairs, will likely champion this. He has been leading a study group of reform-minded judges that clashed with the administrative office of the Supreme Court. The Human Rights Research Institute reminds one of the research group that called for judicial reform under former President Roh Moo-hyun. Judges around the country will, for the first time, assemble to discuss ways to reform the Supreme Court chief justice’s unilateral power over bench appointments and the highest court’s monopoly in administrative affairs.

Judiciary reform is necessary to make the courts more public-minded. But reforms should not be led by political power, as doing so can undermine judicial independence. It would be best to form a neutral body to come up with reform outlines.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 25, Page 34