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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 21)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:08 November 21, 2018

Impeachment of judges
Time to restore people's faith in the judiciary

Judges from courts nationwide convened Monday for a vote to recommend the impeachment of sitting judges implicated in the power abuse scandal involving former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae during the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

More than 100 gathered at the Judicial Research and Training Institute in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, to vote on a resolution submitted by six judges from the Andong branch of the Daegu District Court to oust their colleagues who were implicated in the scandal.

Of the 105 judges that took part in the vote, 53 voted in favor of impeachment and 43 voted against it, with nine participants abstaining. Those who were against the resolution said it was too hasty to seek impeachment as the investigation into the scandal was still ongoing and it was uncertain whether the judges under investigation were going to be charged.

Nonetheless, the endorsement of the resolution shows the judges' perception that being implicated in the influence-peddling scandal from the previous administration was a serious constitutional violation that warrants grave disciplinary measures and impeachment. The judges did not specifically name to whom the impeachment process should be applied.

The decision to seek impeachment came amid an investigation into allegations of trial manipulation in politically sensitive cases during Yang's tenure as chief of the Supreme Court to deliver verdicts favorable to the Park administration. The decision came as prosecutors summoned for questioning former Supreme Court Justice Park Byoung-dae, one of the top judges accused of power abuse who served as the chief of the National Court Administration from 2014 to 2016. He is suspected of aiding Yang with presidential favors by interfering in key trials. Yang, who is at the center of the trial manipulation scandal, is expected to be summoned by the prosecution soon.

It is extremely rare for judges to seek the impeachment of their sitting peers. This reflects their grave concerns about judicial independence and the loss of public trust in the justice system in the wake of the scandal. According to a recent survey, more than 60 percent of respondents believed the establishment of a special court to deal with judicial power abuse was necessary, showing a deep distrust in the current system.

The resolution itself is not binding, but it is expected to influence the National Assembly into passing a law to punish judges who have abused their power with impeachment. Rival parties, however, were divided on the resolution. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) welcomed it, saying it showed the judiciary's determination for self-reflection. However, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and other conservative parties said it was too early to discuss impeachment amid the ongoing investigation. The National Assembly has submitted motions to impeach judges only twice, in 1985 and 2009, and both failed to be processed.

This rare call for impeaching incumbent judges should be an occasion to push for strong self-reform of the judiciary and implement steps to ensure judiciary independence from political power.

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