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Judicial sovereignty at risk

Oct 16,2018
The judicial authority is being seriously challenged. The Blue House declined to respond to a petition calling for a fair trial for a man accused of sexually molesting a waitress in Daejon. The presidential office cited the impropriety of commenting on a case pending in the appeals court.

As the petitioner pressed for a more “sincere” response from the Blue House, as many as 17,000 people backed the appeal on the Blue House website. Most people simply do not accept the Blue House’s explanation that a branch of government cannot exercise influence on the other branches. It is a pity that so many people can find it so hard to accept this basic constitutional principle.

The Blue House is partly at fault. During his visit to Jeju Island, President Moon Jae-in said he would “positively review” pardoning and restoring the civil rights of villagers who had been arrested and tried for interfering with the construction of a naval base in their town on the island. Pardons are among the presidential powers. But the president nevertheless was indiscreet in commenting on a case that is still pending in court.

There are over 100 cases related to the naval base clash. But many could become skeptical of pursuing a case because the president has already promised amnesty. The bench would come under pressure. The defendants also may not respect the trial process.

Some presidential aides in the Blue House act as if they regard the courts as a government branch under the administration. Presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said that pardons and restoration of rights of the Jeju residents on trial will be pursued shortly after the judiciary winds up the court process. He sounds as if he is ordering the courts to end the trials as soon as possible. Cho Kuk, presidential secretary for civil affairs, came under fire for trying to meddle in judicial affairs by arguing for the elimination of the administration office of the court for alleged abuse of power. It is no wonder that the presidential talk of separation of powers cannot convince the public.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 15, Page 30