COURTS IN KOREA
There are three tiers of courts in Korea: the District Courts (including the specialized Family Court, Administrative Court), the courts of original jurisdiction; the High Courts, the intermediate appellate courts; and the Supreme Court, the highest court. The High Courts and the District Courts are divided into geographic districts. The Court Organization Act grants the courts general jurisdiction to preside over civil, criminal, administrative, electoral, and other litigious cases.
It also allows for decisions in non-contentious cases and other matters that fall under their jurisdiction in accordance with the relevant provisions. In addition, military courts may be established under the Constitution as special courts to exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases in the military. Nonetheless, in these cases the Supreme Court retains final appellate jurisdiction.
The District Courts are located in Seoul and twelve other major cities, most of which are provincial capitals. They have both criminal and civil jurisdictions. From 1962, there were separate district courts for civil and criminal cases in Seoul, but these were merged into the Seoul District Court on March 1, 1995. The District Court also has jurisdiction over various non-contentious cases such as the reorganization or liquidation of business corporations, and the registration of real property or corporate matters. Bankruptcy proceedings also come under the District Courts jurisdiction.
Usually, a single judge presides over a District Court trial. However, three judges, collectively referred to as a collegiate division, are required to sit in certain categories of cases including:
- cases in which the collegiate divisions decide to adjudicate by themselves;
- civil cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds 50,000,000 Won (equivalent to about USÂ£Â¤45,000) except for those involving claims with respect to checks or bills;
- criminal cases involving offenses punishable by a death penalty, life imprisonment or an imprisonment exceeding one year, except for those covered by certain provisions of the Criminal Code or the Special Act Concerning the Punishment for Assault and Battery, etc.;
- ancillary cases which are to be tried simultaneously with cases mentioned in the preceding paragraphs;
- cases involving adjudication of a party's challenge to a District Court judge; and
- cases in which the law grants original jurisdiction to the collegiate division
Original Jurisdiction Courts
District Courts also have jurisdiction over appeals filed against the decisions of a single judge of a District Court, a branch court, or a municipal court. This appellate jurisdiction is exercised by the collegiate division of three judges
Branch and Municipal Courts
There are 43 branch courts and 103 municipal courts as of July 1, 2000.
The Chief Justice appoints the judges of a municipal court from among the judges of a District Court or a branch court. A municipal court judge settles small civil claims in which the amount disputed does not exceed 20,000,000 Won (equivalent to about USÂ£Â¤18,000), and the judge also decides misdemeanor charges for which detention of less than thirty days or fines of not more than 200,000 Won (equivalent to about USÂ£Â¤180) may be imposed. Summary proceedings are specially provided for these minor cases.
Conciliation Proceedings Used
For civil matters, the judge may order a case to be settled in a conciliation proceeding before a conciliation committee composed of a judge and two or more lay persons. If the case is not successfully conciliated, the judge may render a ruling that the judge deems reasonable after weighing both parties positions. However, both parties are entitled to file an objection against the ruling, at which time the case is transferred to a trial proceeding
The Family Court is a specialized court dealing exclusively with family matters and juvenile delinquency cases. Presently, there is only one Family Court in Korea, and it is located in Seoul. In other parts of Korea, the functions of the Family Court are served by the respective District Courts.
The Family Court has the jurisdiction over all disputes and conflicts within the family and other related affairs of legal significance. As a general rule, a domestic relations case is first referred to a conciliation proceeding, and only if the parties are unable to reconcile is the case transferred to a trial proceeding.
Another specialized court, the Administrative Court, was opened in Seoul on March 1, 1998. This Court hears administrative cases. In the past, the exhaustion of administrative remedies was a requirement in order to file an administrative action in court. However, after March 1, 1998 an administrative action may be filed without first resorting to an administrative remedy unless the law provides otherwise. The District Court will perform the function of the Administrative Court until the separate Administrative Court is established in that respective region
Intermediate Appellate Courts
The High Courts are intermediate appellate courts with appellate jurisdiction over judgments or rulings rendered by a panel of three judges sitting at trial courts such as District Courts, Family Court and Administrative Court.
The High Courts are located in five major cities in Korea: Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju and Daejon.
The cases before the High Courts are heard by a panel of three judges, which is called a division.
The Highest Court
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial tribunal of the nation.
It is located in Seoul, the nation's capital, and consists of a Chief Justice and thirteen Justices.
The Justice who has been appointed the Minister of Court Administration does not sit on the Bench while serving in that
As the court of last resort, the Supreme Court hears appeals from judgments or rulings rendered by the High Courts and the appellate divisions of the District Courts or the Family Court. It has the authority to review the decisions of the appellate military courts as well. The Supreme Court also has exclusive jurisdiction over the validity of the election of the President or a member of the National Assembly
Rule - Making Power
The Constitution has vested in the Supreme Court the authority for judicial administration as well as the power to establish regulations regarding the internal discipline of the courts, the administration of judicial affairs, and trial procedures. This power is exercised by the Justices Council, which consists of all the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Grounds for Appeal
The grounds for appeal to the Supreme Court are limited. In civil cases, they are limited to the constitutional and legal questions material to the appealed judgment. The six specific grounds for appeal are:
- cases where a court rendering a judgment has not been constituted in compliance with law;
- cases where a judge who was precluded by virtue of law from participating in a judgment has participated therein;
- cases where provisions relating to exclusive jurisdiction have been contravened;
- cases where there has existed a lack of authority on the part of the legal representative or attorney for commencing procedural acts;
- cases where the provisions regarding open pleading have been violated; or
cases where a judgment has not been supported with reasons or there exists inconsistency in the reasoning.
In criminal cases, an appeal to the Supreme Court may be made on the following grounds:
- a violation of the Constitution, law, order, or regulation material to the judgment of the lower court;
- the abolition, alteration, or excuse of penalty after the judgment has been rendered by the lower court;
- existence of a reason to request for a review; or
a grave error in fact-finding or extreme impropriety in the sentencing where a death penalty, life imprisonment, or an imprisonment of more than ten years has been imposed.
In the Supreme Court, either the Grand Bench composed of the Justices sitting en banc or the Petty Benches, each usually composed of three or four Justices, preside over the cases.
Civil law Tradition
Following the civil law tradition, a decision of the Supreme Court does not have a binding force of precedent in subsequent cases of a similar nature. It merely has a persuasive effect. However, the interpretation of a law rendered in a particular case by the Supreme Court has a binding effect on the lower court when the lower court's ruling has been reversed upon appeal and the case has been remanded to the lower court.
The primary source of law regarding the civil litigation procedure is the Code of Civil Procedure, which was enacted in 1960 and revised extensively in 1990
Civil Law Tradition
Following the civil law tradition, no court is bound by the views of another court as a matter of law. However, there are certain de jure and de facto exceptions to this principle. For example, a lower court must follow the interpretation of the law rendered by the Supreme Court in a particular case when the lower court's ruling has been reversed upon appeal and the case has been remanded to the lower court. Also, the established opinions of the higher courts generally exert a significant de facto influence upon subsequent court decisions.
Civil lawsuits may be initiated in any District Court, branch court of a District Court, or municipal court. Either the domicile of the parties to the suit or the situs of the cause of action generally determines the jurisdiction of civil cases among the District Courts. The forum may also be chosen upon the agreement of the parties to a suit