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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Han

Will Supreme Court’s status be shaken?

Will Supreme Court’s status be shaken? - “Judgment on requisition by Kim Yang-ho,” who is unwilling to follow Supreme Court’s decision

The court of first instance ruled against the Supreme Court’s full bench in the damages lawsuit of workers requisitioned by Japanese empire, which caused constant controversy inside and outside the court. Although it is not unusual to issue an opinion different from the precedent of the Supreme Court, some people “are wondering “if the status of the Korean Supreme Court will be shaken” because it was “challenged” in only three years.

On June 7, Kim Yang-ho, the chief judge in the 34th Civil Division at the Seoul Central District Court, dismissed the lawsuits filed against 16 Japanese companies brought by 85 bereaved family members of former requisitioned workers. The reason of dismissal is that since the 1965 Korea-Japan Claims Agreement is applied to the victims, they cannot exercise their rights to claim. This contradicted completely the decision of the Supreme Court’s full bench in 2018 that “the Agreement shouldn’t have extinguished the victims’ right to claim.”

On June 9, according to the legal community, there are various interpretations over this decision inside the court. Some judges consider that there is some possibility of making a different conclusion at a lower court because there was room for discussion on the decision of the Supreme Court three years ago. A chief judge of High Court said, “The logics of the 2018 Supreme Court decision had some sloppy aspect compared to the importance of the case,” and that “lower courts may be able to raise questions about the logical vacuum. A district court judge stressed that “it should not be taboo, and in fact, not completely unusual, to disagree with the judgement of the Supreme Court.

There is an analysis that abolition of the promotion system for chief justices of High Court has created an atmosphere in which they are not bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court. Kim Meong-su, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who has been advocating for the abolition of the said system, has not made any promotion for the chief judges of High Court since 2018, resulting in an environment where judges do not care for superiors in order to be promoted to a chief judge of High Court. A chief judge of a district court in Seoul explained, “With the elimination of the promotion system, there are more and more senior judges in courts of first instance, which seems to bring a tendency for judges to make decisions based on their briefs.

However, there is some concern that the status of the Supreme Court’s decision may have fallen. The said judgement of the Seoul District Court cannot be regarded as a totally personal and sudden action because some judges have recently begun to strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision. On May 18 on a free discussion board of the Supreme Court’s criminal law research group, chief judge Jang Chang-Gu at Uijeongbu District Court criticized the Supreme Court publicly, “The first and second instance courts in charge of sexual violence are complaining and self-deprecating by saying that any acquittal decision would be thrown out by the Supreme Court. A chief judge of the Seoul High Court said, “Requiring the case to be argued again three years after the decision by the Supreme Court’s full bench means that the lower court did not respect the Supreme Court, and the authority of the Supreme Court is considered shaky.

Dozens of trials related former requisitioned workers are pending in lower courts. If decisions differ for each court division, litigants will be expected to be confused. More than 20 cases for the damage lawsuits filed by former requisitioned workers are currently pending at the Seoul Central District Court Justice alone. An elder lawyer from the Supreme Court Justice predicted that “the lower courts would likely issue their respective rulings until the time to make another final decision by the Supreme Court.”


The Korea Times on 10 June

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