One out of seven new judges expected to be appointed this year is a former lawyer at Kim & Chang Law Firm. As the number of judges from Kim & Chang’s lawyers is increasing every year, a bill has been proposed in the National Assembly to prevent ‘Kim & Chang’s monopoly on judges’. This is because there is a concern that the independence and fairness of the trial may be undermined if the majority of judges are from a specific law firm.
According to data released on the 3rd by lawmaker Lee Tan-hee of the Democratic Party of Korea, including the legal careers of newly appointed judges for the past five years from 2018 to 2022, released on the 3rd by lawmaker Lee Tan-hee of the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, 19 out of 135 (14.1%) of the 135 prospective judges this year were lawyers Kim & Chang. . One out of seven lawyers from Kim & Chang was selected.
The 135 people who are expected to be appointed this year will be finalized on the 5th after obtaining the consent of the Supreme Court Justices.
The proportion of lawyers from Kim & Chang among new judges has been increasing recently. The proportion decreased slightly from 8.3% (3 people) in 2018 to 6.3% (5 people) in 2019, then to 7.7% (12 people) in 2020, 12.2% (19 people) in 2021, and 14.1% (19 people) in 2022 continued to increase.
Earlier last year, lawmaker Lee Tan-hee proposed the ‘Judge Information Disclosure Act’ to prevent the tendency of lawyers from Kim & Chang last year, saying, “Kim & Chang’s judges are alone.” The main point is to disclose information about a judge’s past career when hiring a judge with experience. If many of the new judges are appointed by a law firm, there are concerns about ‘privatization of the courts’ and the lack of diversity of judges may undermine the independence or fairness of the trial.
In response to such criticism, the Supreme Court explained that it adopted the ‘blind screening’ method from the appointment of new judges last year and selected them without knowing their law firm and school.
In addition, there was a phenomenon in which many of the new judges came from large law firms. Among the new judges expected this year, 50 lawyers from seven major law firms, including Kim & Chang, Pacific and Sejong, accounted for 37.0% of the total. The number is higher than the total number of prosecutors, public defenders, national institutions (35), and trial researchers (11).
In particular, in the case of new judges with little legal experience, the tendency of lawyers from large law firms, including Kim & Chang, was more severe. Of the 95 new judges with ‘more than 5 years and less than 7 years’ experience, 18 (18.9%) were counted from Kim & Chang. There were 42 (44.2%) graduates from the seven largest law firms, including Kim & Chang. New judges with ‘more than 5 years and less than 7 years’ experience, the most concentrated in this way, accounted for 41.3% of the total number of appointed judges.
Rep. Lee Tan-hee pointed out that this is interpreted as a result of the passage of the National Assembly in December last year of the Court Organization Act, which suspends the legal career to become a judge for at least ‘5 years or more’.
Even at the time of the revision of the Court Organization Act, criticism was raised that it went against the purpose of legal unification, which was promoted as part of judicial reform. Legal unification is a system that selects judges from among those who have undergone various legal careers in order to break away from the pure blood and elitistism of the judiciary.
Initially, there was a grace period to be appointed as a judge only after having at least 5 years of legal experience until 2021, at least 7 years from 2022 to 2025, and at least 10 years from 2026. A three-year grace period until the end of 2024.
As the number of judges from law firms increases, there are also concerns about the so-called ‘honours to the courtiers’. It is said that if a judge takes on a trial involving the large law firm he worked for, he or she can make a favorable decision or take a favorable position for the law firm.
“There is no country in which one law firm monopolizes one-seventh of the nation’s new judges,” Lee said. It got worse than last year, which accounted for one-eighth,” he said. He added, “The more problematic is the fact that the courts encourage the phenomenon of crowding, such as favoring personnel with short legal experience.”