Supreme Court Justice Kim Yong-dam on Judges/Prosecutors and Public Trust

A Joongang Daily editorial on Feb. 27, 2007 entitled Judges, prosecutors seeking to regain public trust summarizes a speech giving by Justice Kim Yong-dam to other judges. The editorial is enlightening to the fact that the legal system is trying to make a concerted effort to change its public image.

The nation’s courts have given the impression that they are lenient to the haves but cold-hearted to the have-nots, Kim Yong-dam, a Supreme Court justice, said yesterday.

During a lecture to criminal court judges, Mr. Kim urged the judiciary to study past rulings in an attempt to understand the public’s distrust.

He also encouraged judges to make rulings based on courtroom testimony rather than relying on the prosecution’s investigative reports, which are submitted beforehand.
“Public trust in the court system can only be recovered when judges make rulings based on the testimony given at a public hearing,” Mr. Kim said.

Korea’s criminal trials fail to convince those involved and the public of their legitimacy because nothing takes place in the courtroom but the exchange of papers, Mr. Kim said.

He said the courts have handed down lenient sentences to white-collar criminals and that legal jargon prevails during trials.

While Mr. Kim was urging judges to redouble their efforts to regain public confidence, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office released the results of a survey of 2,800 prosecutors and investigators meant to uncover the reason for public distrust.

Of those polled, 49 percent said that corruption was behind the problem.
Another 27.6 percent said prosecutors’ authoritarian attitude was the reason, while 21.1 percent said they think people lost confidence in the prosecution due to its unfair handling of legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, Lee Jin-kang, the newly elected chairman of the Korea Bar Association, said yesterday that his organization will assist the judiciary’s efforts to restore public confidence through monitoring.

The Korea Bar Association represents the nation’s lawyers.
Mr. Lee stressed the importance of fairness in trials.

“A fair trial means not only [making] an impartial ruling but also [conducting] a fair proceeding,” he said. “When more and more people think trials are unfair and rulings are predictable, public confidence will disappear.”


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