Judges debate KORUS FTA task force

Hankyoreh, Seoul

Judges debate KORUS FTA task force

A heated exchange continues over a judicial task force to renegotiate the KORUS FTA

By Kim Tae-gyu

3 December 2011

Judges are currently involved in a heated online and in-person debate over comments about the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement made by Incheon District Court Senior Judge Kim Ha-neul.

As of Friday afternoon, around 170 replies had been made to Kim’s post on the court’s internal bulletin board, lending support to Kim’s proposal to draft a petition to submit to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court requesting the creation of a task force for renegotiation of the FTA. Kim said the petition would be submitted once 100 judges had agreed.

A debate was also said to be taking place over a revised proposal to discuss the matter through another method besides a task force.

During a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, a Seoul High Court senior judge said, “The issue of a third party organization trying cases in which South Korean citizens are involved should have been examined beforehand, and while it is late in the game, some examination of the investor-state dispute system provisions needs to take place now.”

The judge added that the opinion in favor of a task force “may not be effective because the ratification has already been passed, but it could serve as a reference should the president engage in renegotiations.”

Another senior judge said, “I would like to see the government asking for the judiciary’s opinion during the FTA implementation process, just like the National Assembly asked for the opinions of related groups during the legislative process.”

Meanwhile, others argued that Kim’s expression of opinion was inappropriate and that discussions of a task force would be “overstepping authority.”

An associate judge at Seoul High Court said, “Given the nature of South Korean society and its political and regional conflicts, it would be better not to make remarks that stir up needless controversy over the judges tasked with making decisions.”

“The judge is the person who makes the decision on something once it has become a case, and since the FTA issue is fundamentally the territory of the executive, it does not accord with separation of powers for the courts to make a research task force,” the judge added.

A senior judge at a court in the greater Seoul area said, “Since we may lose judicial authorities once the FTA takes effect, we are allowed to voice our opinions as legal professionals, but the idea of forming a task force seems a bit off the wall.”

A mid-ranking judge said, “The task force idea has no legal meaning and is very likely to serve as a stepping stone for political opposition, so we might find ourselves caught up in a political firestorm.”