The Korea Herald


S. Korea mulls allowing pregnant women to postpone bar exam

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Feb. 12, 2024 - 11:30

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The Ministry of Justice said Monday it is considering the inclusion of severe illnesses and pregnancy among cases that can be granted an extension for the state-mandated period to pass the bar exam.

South Korean law stipulates that those who wish to become a lawyer can only take the state-issued bar exam five times within five years after getting a degree from law school, disqualifying those who failed to pass during that period from taking the test again. For those who served their mandatory military service, the time they were in service is excluded from those five years.

Last year, lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea proposed a bill that would expand the categories eligible for exceptions and extensions to include those receiving treatment for severe illness -- including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and rare and intractable disorders defined by the law -- and pregnant women. Those subject to the exception would be given one extra year to pass the bar exam.

The ministry said it agrees with the change "in principle" but needs additional time to contemplate the specific applications of the law. "We need to review whether to grant the one-year extension to those who took a relatively short time to receive treatment for a disease. ... We also need to consider if abortion and stillbirth should be included in the policy, and the upper limit to the extension for those who gave birth multiple times (during the five-year period)," the ministry said.

The current system has sparked controversy and protest from those who have been permanently disqualified from becoming an attorney because of illness or pregnancy during the five-year period.

In a highly-publicized case last year, a 2016 law school graduate surnamed Kim filed charges against the state challenging the legal cause. She said her giving birth to two children after graduation made her miss the five-year window, meaning she could only take the test two times.

The court ruled against Kim, based on the Constitutional Court rulings in 2016, 2018, and 2020 which found the aforementioned clause to be constitutional.