|The trial of Ahn Do-hyun is underway on Monday under a jury system in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. |
Korea introduced a jury system six years ago as part of reforms to make court proceedings fair, transparent and more in tune with common sense.
But the system has come under scrutiny following the separate jury acquittals in less than a week of progressive political satirists Ju Jin-u and Kim Eo-jun, and poet Ahn Do-hyun.
They all were accused of spreading false information about President Park Geun-hye and her family members and charged with defamation.
The verdicts troubled conservatives including the ruling party members leading them to ask whether putting court decisions of politically sensitive cases in the hands of non-professionals was the right course of action.
Former prosecutor Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the Saenuri Party raised the issue on Tuesday, arguing that even experienced legal professionals have difficulty in understanding precedent rulings of defamation and election fraud cases. Hence, said Kweon, court rulings that concern questions of law, and not facts, should not be left in the hands of laymen, especially those regarding politically controversial cases.
Other problems of using the jury system in politically sensitive cases were debated in Korea’s conservative circles, including accusations of geographical jury bias.
The Ahn trial’s court proceedings took place in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, where more than 80 percent of voters last year backed Rep. Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate for the main opposition Democratic Party.
Ahn was standing trial for supposedly violating election laws while serving as Moon’s aide by unjustly defaming the then-ruling camp presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. Because the jury members were randomly selected from nearby locations within the province, conservatives argued the jury could have been biased in its ruling.
Yet other voices support the trial-by-jury system, arguing that a small number of controversial rulings does not justify questioning the entire system. In fact, only 82 of the 1,009 jury rulings made since the system was introduced in January 2008 were disputed by judges.
Experts caution that it is still too early to compare Korea’s system to those of the U.S. and U.K., as they have had jury trials for hundreds of years, as opposed to Korea’s six years. In addition, Korea’s jury laws are a unique fusion of related U.S. and European decrees.
“The essence of the jury system is to take into account the legal opinions of everyday people,” Han Sang-hee, professor of constitutional law at the Konkuk Law School, was quoted as saying.
“Even in the United States, where controversial court rulings involving race and politics occur, people do not blame the jury system itself.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org