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[Editorial] Judges, move on

Letting internal strife escalate could threaten trust in judiciary

A court administration team recently announced the results of its third probe into allegations of judges having been blacklisted by the previous court administration.

The probe came to the same conclusion as its first and second ones that there were no explicit blacklists made under former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae, who served the disgraced President Park Geun-hye.

But incidentally the team found documents showing that Yang considered using several court rulings to persuade Cheong Wa Dae to cooperate with his plan to legislate the establishment of an appellate court.

There is no doubt that such dealings go against the principle of separating powers. Yang sought to introduce an appellate court to reduce trial burden on the Supreme Court when he was chief justice.But the inquiry team did not find any attempt to use the documents. The previous court administration only prepared the documents.

The team also found that the cases Yang considered using to get cooperation from Cheong Wa Dae were adjudicated ones, meaning the documents had little to do with actual court decisions. The team concluded that it was difficult to bring criminal charges against Yang and related figures with the documents.

This conclusion was effectively approved by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su before the team announced its probe results to news media on May 25.

But after they were made public, some judges and a liberal group of lawyers vowed to bring charges against Yang.

Then, Kim, who formed the probe team, said on May 28 that he would consider whether to file charges against those involved in the preparation of the documents.

Even though he did not say he definitely would accuse Yang and others, Kim hinted he could overturn the probe team’s conclusion.

The team then changed its position, saying “it was inappropriate to have said so (the documents in question are not enough to bring criminal charges against those involved).”

Kim issued a statement on Thursday that he would gather opinions before deciding whether to charge them. He appears to have stepped back a bit, but on the same day many judges demanded disclosure of all 410 documents in question. Things in the judiciary are becoming chaotic. His hint at pursuing criminal charges has already poured oil on the flames.

The allegations of a judge blacklist, raised by a few judges, was probed three times over a 14-month period from March last year. No single internal judiciary issue has ever been probed so many times.

The inquiries produced the same conclusions: that there were no blacklists, though Yang was suspected of abusing his power over court administration.

As no blacklists were found, another issue was raised. This gives an impression that probes were conducted with certain persons in mind from the beginning, rather out of a will to reform.

The judiciary has been drawn in a mud fight over the documents.

Some judges have a position that tough disciplinary actions are needed against related figures but that an internal reform of court administration is preferable to letting prosecutors investigate the judiciary.

Other judges and the court union argue suspicions related to the documents must be cleared up through prosecution’s investigations.

The fracas was joined by parties to the cases mentioned in the documents. Losers of the cases picketed before the Supreme Court, with some storming into the court. They argue Supreme Court rulings against them were invalid, calling for the arrest of Yang.

If this situation spreads, trust in the courts will crumble and legal principles will be threatened.

Of course, the judiciary’s dealing with the government is unpardonable, even if it was not carried out.

It was wrong for the previous judicature to try to grasp dispositions of judges critical of Yang’s idea on appellate courts and to prepare documents containing plans to use rulings palatable to the government.

But it is not desirable for judges to stir up trouble with their internal problems and damage their own authority.

Trying to find fault with the judiciary under the previous regime and fighting among judges looks like political machinations.

Reform of court administration has become inevitable, but the judiciary could not move on to the future if it sticks to the past and divides its members into us and them.