Korea - The Judicial Branch
With the adoption of the western legal system in the late 19th century, judicial functions became separate and independent from the executive power. In 1948, the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court were established. In Korea, the constitutional power is divided into three branches based on the principle of separation of powers: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary. The Ministry of Justice is a part of the Executive branch, separate from the Judiciary. The Judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court, the High Courts, the District Courts and their Branch Courts, and the specialized courts such as Family Courts. The courts are empowered to adjudicate civil, criminal and administrative cases as well as election lawsuits and other judicial cases as stipulated by law.
The Judiciary Branch of the government is composed of the Supreme Court, appellate courts, district courts, family courts, administrative courts, and the patent court among others. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly, and other Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The term for the Chief Justice and justices is six years.
In addition, the Constitutional Court was established in 1988 in accordance with the current Constitution. The Court is committed to fully protecting the constitutional rights of the people and decides on cases of constitutional magnitude such as impeachment and the dissolution of political parties. The Constitutional Court has the right to review whether a specific law is unconstitutional, to judge an appeal for the impeachment of a high-ranking official, and decide on the disbandment of a political party under the Constitution. The Constitutional Court is composed of three judges appointed by the President, three judges appointed by the National Assembly, and three judges appointed by the Supreme Court Chief Justice. The President of the Constitutional Court is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly.
With the advent of the 21st century, the Supreme Court devised the 'Judicial System Development Plan' as part of its efforts to advance the system to better serve the public, which came to fruition with the introduction of the 'new management model for civil cases' in 2001. Further, regulations and practices are being improved regarding criminal cases by strictly respecting principles such as due process of law and assumption of innocence, so that the rights of the defendant can be properly protected. Since the inauguration of Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun in October 2006, the judiciary has been making every effort to achieve fundamental and far-reaching reforms under the slogan of 'the judiciary serving and standing by the people.' As always, we at the judiciary will keep playing our role as the protector of the constitution and the last resort of human rights by serving the public with fair and prompt trial procedure.
As of January 1, 2008, a new system which allows lay citizens to participate in criminal trials as jurors has been introduced. The system is intended to raise public confidence in the nation's judicial system by enhancing its democratic legitimacy and transparency. Upon the request of the defendant, the jury consisting of 5 to 9 citizens attends a felony criminal trial along with professional judges and provides advisory opinions. Jurors are required to independently consider whether the defendant is guilty or not and reach a unanimous verdict; if fain, they depend on majority vote. The jury also presents individual opinions on sentencing after the discussion with the judge. The jury verdict and its view on sentencing, however, do not bind the judge's decision. The newly-established system is a combination of the common law jury system, under which a verdict is rendered solely by jurors, and the continental law jury system (Schoffengericht), which involves citizens as a member of the bench to do a fact-finding and decide a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against the convicted defendant.
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