Korea's modern judicial system, established with the enactment of the Court Organization Act in 1895, has continued to advance for more than a hundred years. But industrialization and informatization have rapidlychanged our society, and such changes are demanding reforms within the Judiciary.
The Judiciary, aware of such social trends, made efforts in as early as 1960 to improve the judicial system through the establishment of various committees within the Ministry of Court Administration. In particular, the establishment of the Deputy Director General for Judicial Policy Research under the Minister of Court Administration on March 1, 1990 enabled the integration of all judicial policy studies, which until then were conducted sporadically. Eventually, such efforts paved the way for more concrete measures for judicial reform and gave birth to the Commission for Judicial System Development.
The Supreme Court took its first step toward judicial reform by organizing the Commission for Judicial System Development on November 3, 1993. Comprised of 31 members representing the legal circles, academia, politics, media, and civic groups, the Commission concerted efforts to derive a new plan for judicial reform. On February 16, 1994, the Commission proposed the following: establishment of Municipal Courts in cities and counties to enhance user convenience, introduction of an examination process of the suspect against whom a warrant of detention is requested to strengthen human rights, establishment of the Patent Court and Administrative Court to facilitate court specialization, and adoption of an apprentice judge system to upgrade the quality of judges. Six bills for judiciary reform reflecting the above were passed in the National Assembly.
In January 1995, under the direction of the President of the Republic, the Segyehwa Committee was set up by the executive branch. The Supreme Court, together with the Committee, announced a plan to reform and globalize legal services and education on April 25, 1995. The plan includes measures to improve legal practices and systems to enhance international competitiveness. Some of the measures were passing a larger number of applicants taking the National Judicial Examination (from 300 to 1,000 persons a year), establishing the code of conduct for judges, strengthening public defense, and encouraging size the expansion in the size of law firms.
The Judicial Reform Promotion Committee was organized as a Presidential advisory group on May 7, 1999. Two judges were included among the Committee members. The Committee submitted its final proposal for judicial reform to the President, which included fair and expeditious redress of rights, higher-quality legal services, a more rational, specialized and progressively-minded Judiciary, better legal education and training, eradication of corruption in legal circles, and preparation for Segyehwa (globalization).
From October 19 to November 10, 1999, the Ministry of Court Administration(Currently National Court Administration) collected ideas for judicial reform from all members of the Judiciary and set up a task force committee for the development of Judiciary in the 21st century on November 8, 1999, chaired by the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Court Administration. After in-depth discussions based on the gathered ideas, on February 9, 2000, the task force committee announced the Judiciary Development Plans for the 21st Century.
The following are some key points of the Judicial Development plans for the 21st Century.
Measures to improve the litigation system:
Implement new Civil Procedure Act and Civil Execution Act, highlight ADR, improve criminal proceedings, strengthen the right of the accused to have access to evidence, and secure balanced sentencing.
Measures to improve judicial administration:
Strengthen internal operation of various committees and research groups and publish manual for trials.
Measures to increase efficiency and to optimize judiciary resources:
Secure equal work loads for each judicial member through job analysis, improve the methods of judgment writing, and improve trial proceedings on small claim actions.
Measures to improve public service:
Guarantee the right to counsel in criminal proceedings, expand legal aid programs in civil proceedings, provide for pro se litigants, improve civil petitions-processing procedure, promote international exchanges, and make judicial information widely available.
Although Korea's judicial system has improved dramatically both in quality and quantity, as the result of various reform efforts, the basic framework of the judicial system has remained the same. As a fundamental review of the Korean judicial system has become necessary, the Chief Justice proposed to the President on August 22, 2004 a renewed drive for reform in the judicial system.
On October 28, 2003, the Judicial Reform Committee was formed under the Supreme Court, composed of 21 members representing various parts of the society, such as the legal profession, politics, legislature, media, unions, business sector, and NGO group including women's rights organizations. The Committee immediately began working on devising fundamental reforms of the judicial system.
The Committee reviewed reform methods for the following five topics, having referenced various opinions of the society. The Committee produced specific reform proposals on the fallowing issues at the end of December 2004.
Organization and Function of the Supreme Court
To improve the current system to establish the authority of the Supreme Court as the highest court more efficiently.
Judge Appointment System
To institute a system of appointing judges from attorneys with substantial practical work experiences, in order to meet the public request of being tried by judges with broad understanding of the society and diverse experiences.
Legal Education and Qualification of Lawyer
To establish an efficient system for legal education with specialization and international competitiveness, and set up a new qualification system for lawyers.
Public Participation in the Judicial Process
To study methods in which the public may participate in the trial process, such as the jury system or the lay judge system.
Legal Services and the Criminal Procedure System
To create an efficient and fair legal system which can be easily accessed by the public and research methods which can better protect the rights of the accused and the victim during criminal proceedings.
The Presidential Committee on Judicial Reform was formed on January 18, 2005, as a presidential advisory body, to facilitate implementation of the judicial reform proposals that have been recommended by the Judicial Reform Committee. This committee focused on accomplishing an even more democratic, fair, and efficient judiciary with more openness and transparency.
The judicial reform proposals that have been discussed comprised of various issues including establishment of graduate-level law schools, promoting the public participation in the judicial proceedings, and substantially reforming the criminal law system.
In 2007 the reform procedure came into fruition as the Amendment of Criminal Procedure Act. In addition, the Law School Act which will introduce professional law school system and Act on Lay Participation during Criminal Trials (provisional title) allowing lay participation of selected criminal trials were enacted.