Posted : 2008-10-22 17:39
Updated : 2008-10-22 17:39

Unjust Justice

Retired Judges Should Not Seek `Special Treatment'

All men are equal before law. This maxim has universal value throughout the world. But it is hard to practice this noble idea, at least in South Korea. First of all, the country has failed to guarantee the rule of law, something essential for democracy. And it has also made little progress in firmly establishing the justice system that is fair and equal to everyone.

South Korea has a shameful history of the justice system serving dictatorial regimes in the 1970s-80s. During the iron-fisted rule, police, prosecutors and judges were mobilized to crack down on opposition politicians, dissidents, unionists and student activists in the name of a fight against communists. They used torture to get false confessions and brought trumped-up charges against innocent people.

One case typical of the times was the conviction of eight pro-democracy activists executed in April 1975, only 20 hours after the Supreme Court found them guilty of trying to rebuild a disbanded pro-communist group ``Inhyeokdang," or the People's Revolutionary Party. In January last year, a Seoul court undid the conviction, clearing the charges fabricated by the state intelligence agency that backed the authoritarian regime of then President Park Chung-hee.

Such cooked-up charges and convictions were the bad legacy of the ``dark age." Fortunately, such cases have disappeared since the country made remarkable progress in democracy in the 1990s. If there had been conscientious investigators or judges who stood up against the witch-hunt for dissidents, they could have made a big difference.

The saying still goes: ``If you are rich, you are innocent (of any charges). But if you are poor, you are guilty." It means that rich and powerful people such as business tycoons, ranking officials and politicians still get too lenient sentences for their criminal activities. This runs counter to the rule of law and equality before law. Among the obstacles to the justice system are the corrupt ties between judges and lawyers.

Especially, retired judges have long been criticized for getting ``special treatment" from their former colleagues at court. The special treatment means that retired judges have a far higher possibility of winning the court battles of their clients in collaboration with judges. This kind of treatment has been the source of litigation corruption and brought about public distrust in the justice system.

According to the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), 20 retired senior judges opened a lawyer's office near the courts they had worked for in 2004-07 less than one year after their retirement. They handled cases filed with the courts where they served as judges. Critics claim the corrupt ties still exist, although the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court deny it. They also point out that many retired prosecutors enjoy similar special treatment from incumbent prosecutors or judges.

It is urgent for the judiciary to break corrupt ties in order to guarantee the rule of law and a fair and equal justice system. A draft bill designed to ban retired judges from dealing with cases filed with their last workplace within one year of their retirement is waiting for deliberation in the National Assembly. Lawmakers should pass the bill quickly to root out corruption and ensure that all men are equal before law.
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