The Supreme Court is comprised of the Chief Justice and 13 Justices. The Chief Justice then appoints one Justice as the Minister of National Court Administration, a non-adjudicatory capacity. Therefore, in practical effect, the Chief Justice and 12 Justices discharge the adjudicative functions.
As the court of last resort, the Supreme Court hears appeals from judgments or rulings rendered by the High Courts, the Patent Court, and the appellate panels of the District Courts or the Family Court in civil, criminal, administrative, patent and domestic relations cases. Under special circumstances, the Supreme Court hears exceptional appeals from the first trial judgments. It has the authority to review rulings rendered by the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal. It also has exclusive jurisdiction over the validity of the presidential or parliamentary election. The Supreme Court has the power to make a definitive review on the constitutionality or legality of orders, rules, regulations, and actions taken by administrative entities.
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is exercised at the Grand Bench or the Petty Bench. The grand bench is convened with more than two-thirds of all the Justices with the Chief Justice presiding. A Petty bench is convened with four Justices. Currently, there are three petty benches. All judgments rendered by the petty bench must be made unanimously. As for the cases deliberated by the grand bench, the decisions are made on a majority basis. If the members of the Grand Bench are unable to reach a majority opinion, then the Supreme Court cannot reverse the judgment of the lower court.
The petty benches rule most of the cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court. However, a case is referred to the grand bench in the event that a petty bench fails to reach a consensus of the decisions to be rendered or if the case falls under one of the following categories:
It is deemed that any order, rule, or regulation is in contravention of the Constitution;
It is deemed that any order, rule, or regulation is contrary to law;
It is deemed necessary to modify the previous opinion of the Supreme Court on the interpretation and implementation of the Constitution, laws, orders, rules, or regulations; and
It is deemed that adjudication by a petty bench is not appropriate.
Adjudication of the Supreme Court has a distinctive feature. When the grounds for appeal to the Supreme Court submitted by the appellant do not fall under such categories as are enumerated by the law, the Supreme Court is to dismiss the appeal without further examining the case. The reasons for dismissal need not to be stated. This is called Discontinuation of Adjudication. This is not applicable to criminal appeals.
Judicial administration refers to administrative management affairs including organization, human resources, budgets, accounting, facilities, etc., which are necessary to operate the Judiciary. The Chief Justice exercises general control over judicial administrative affairs, and directs and supervises the officials concerned in regard thereof. The Chief Justice may delegate part of the authority to direct and supervise to the Minister of National Court Administration, the chief judge of each court, the President of Judicial Research and Training Institute, the President of Training Institute for Court Officials, or the President of Supreme Court Library.Important judicial administrative affairs require resolution of the Council of Supreme Court Justices.
The Council of Supreme Court Justices is the highest deliberative body in judicial administration. The Council is composed of all the Justices and presided over by the Chief Justice. A resolution of the Council requires a quorum of more than two-thirds of all the Justices and the consent of a majority of the members present. The Chief Justice has a vote in a resolution, and in case of a tie, the casting vote.The Council passes resolution on consent to the appointment of the lower court judges, establishment or revision of the Supreme Court Rules and Regulations, accumulation and publication of judicial precedents, request for budget, expenditure of reserve fund, settlement of accounts, and such matters as deemed of particular importance and as referred to it by the Chief Justice.
The Supreme Court may establish rules and regulations, under its judicial law-making powers, concerning judicial proceedings, discipline within the courts, or management of business insofar as they are not contrary to law. As mentioned above, resolution by the Council is required when establishing the Supreme Court Rules and Regulations.
If it is deemed necessary to enact or revise related laws in connection with the organization, personnel affairs, operation, judicial proceedings, registrations, family registration, and other court affairs, the Chief Justice may present in writing his/her opinion to the National Assembly.
In the Supreme Court, there is a judicial research team comprised of judges and non-judge law researchers who undertake to examine cases as well as to conduct judicial research.