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[Editorial] Manual for judges

Rumors have it that it was the product of a recent series of unsavory episodes in courts involving male and female judges, but a “service manual” prepared by a senior judge in Seoul and now circulating in district courts sheds light to a new culture emerging in the judicial community.

“Leave the door ajar when you meet a female colleague in your office. Keep a distance of at least one meter when you are engaged in a discussion with a female judge. Never loosen your belt before you have ensured that all female colleagues have left the office …” the manual advises male judges who work with female judges in the same panels.

Women judges had formed a small minority until a decade ago but the entry of a large number of women into the legal profession in recent years resulted in almost every court panel having one or two female judges at the district court level. Women account for 26 percent or 670 of the 2,559 judges in Korea and among the 81 judges appointed this year, 53 or 65 percent are female. Of the 44 panels for civil procedures in the Seoul Central District Court, 41 have female judges.

Sexual misconduct has resulted in the resignation of some judges after victims lodged informal complaints with the chief judges, according to news dispatches. In October last year, a senior prosecutor was accused of sexual harassment of a junior prosecutor, alerting prosecutors’ offices as well as courts to a possible increase in sexual misconduct.

Yet, improprieties are rarely exposed outside courts or prosecutors’ offices, as members of these organizations feel the need to protect their social standing. The “service manual” for the Seoul district court judges indicates their spontaneous efforts to maintain the integrity of judges and the public’s trust. The court will soon need manuals for both male and female judges as the latter are to quickly outnumber the former.
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