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Legal System in South Korea

The legal system in South Korea "combines elements of continental European civil law systems, Anglo-American law, and Chinese classical thought." (REF 3)

Today's South Korea has reached an advanced stage of democracy with freely elected local councils and separation of powers between three branches of national government: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary branch. Korea has a unitary, democratic form of government, republican in nature with a presidential system. The President is directly elected by the people to a single five-year term and has a wide range of powers over the central government. He also serves as the Commander in Chief of the Korean armed forces. Korea has adopted a two-tier local government system as well. All the local governments in Korea have the governing structure similar to the strong mayor-council system in the US. They have the chief executives (governors, mayors, county executives and district executives) and local councils. (REF 5). The graph below is taken from the Intelligence Resource Program website ( ), and portrays South Korea's National Police Agency.

The Republic of Korea is now recognized as a nation of fast growing importance by an increasing number of nations. The Republic of Korea maintains diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries and a broad network of trading relationships. One of the most important foreign policy objectives for South Korea is International Economic Cooperation. They are involved with 170 other countries in trade, but rely on raw materials to be imported so that they can export their goods. It has been a goal to promote an international environmental advance to production and trade activities (REF 6).

With improved standards of living, the handicapped health, recreation and leisure facilities, senior citizens and women's issues are receiving increased attention in social development policymaking. Due to the rapid economic growth and improved industrial structure achieved in the past twenty years, the problem of unemployment has virtually been overcome in South Korea. In order to increase employment opportunities, policies have concentrated so far on development of skilled labor intensive industries and on increasing scientifically and technically-oriented manpower through expansion of vocational and technical training. (REF 2).

To solve the problem of housing shortage and overpopulation is the increasing number of small housing units being produced. This has continued to stabilize housing costs since the 1980's. The health of the Korean people as a whole is improving substantially. This is directly related to the qualitative improvement of diet, the rise of living standards and the development of health an d medical programs, which all began through the rapid economic growth of the 1970's. (REF 3).

Koreans have always had pride in their environmental surroundings. Korea developed an environmental pollution problem, like most industrialized countries do. However, the nation has promoted environmental awareness because of the increased standard of living and he Establishment Administration in 1980. Finally, an important quality of life in South Korea is women's status in society. Traditionally, women's education and role was only in the home. Their major role was to give birth and maintain family order. Since the 1880's, when the country opened up to the outside world, women's education has continued to improve. Now the attend college, teach, and receive the same formal education as any male in South Korea. (REF 1).

Korea is a centralized nation-state with a three-part system of government consisting of administration, legislation and judicature. There are no localized criminal justice systems, therefore the entire criminal justice system, such as prosecution and courts and prisons, is the responsibility of the central government. (REF 7.)

The Korean legal system is a civil law system and currently follows the European civil law system. It has changed dramatically since 1945 when Korea was under Japan rule, and followed the Japan legal system. Legislation introduced during the U.S. military occupation of 1945-1948 was influenced by the American legal system. Basic laws following much of the American legal system were enforced because of Korea's strong political and economic relations with the United States. (REF 8).

South Korea's philosophy of law enforcement for the country is based on the Fifth Republic Constitution. "Essentially, the Constitution of the Fifth Republic aims at a harmony of the national ideals of security, order and efficiency with the people's call for democratization, while guaranteeing human rights to the greatest possible extent. This harmony is achieved by stressing the inviolability of basic rights, so that a just and democratic society dedicated to the well-being of all its citizens can materialize without fail." (REF 1). The habeas corpus system is key in the Fifth Constitution as well as the freedom of speech, press, assembly and association are guaranteed. (REF 4.)

The Korean National Police Agency system consists of, from the top: one National Police Headquarters located in Seoul; 5 special task police agencies, including Marine Police; 13 provincial police headquarters; 220 police stations; and 3,389 police branch offices across the country. The Korean Police has its own chain of command independent of the Army. There are no local municipal police systems or state police departments like those in many western nations. (REF 9). The Police Administration Office in Korea was established under the U.S. Military Government on October 21, 1945, with Police Administration Departments in each province. In 1974, the government started to study the police system to revive the proper functionality of the police. Job satisfaction within Korea's policing system is high, resulting in 3,422 police boxes, (a base for anti-crime activities for maintaining the security of an area in consideration of the population, area, administrative district, frequency of crime.) These boxes are manned by 38,000 policemen. Forty-three percent of the entire police force work day and night in protecting the population from crime. In 1991 the NPA (National Police Agency) was inaugurated as an independent government organization that is not a subordinate organization of the Ministry of Home Affairs. At this time, budget, equipment, communications, and the matter for the management and improvement of police was deliberated on, and concluded that improvements in the policing system would begin. (REF 9).
South Korea's police follow the philosophy given by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, where habeas corpus is emphasized. The Constitution provides defendants with a number of rights in criminal trials including the presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, freedom from retroactive laws and double jeopardy, the right to a speedy trial, and the right of appeal. (REF 10). The Constitution states in Article 118 that, "local governments shall deal with matters pertaining to the welfare of local residents, manage laws and decrees, rules and regulations regarding local autonomy." (REF 2).

Government officials in South Korea have a reputation for their integrity. They have great prestige associated with their rank, power, and responsibility. Participating in Korea's policing system is known as having a honorable profession and embodies prestigious individuals.

In conclusion, justice procedures for South Korea's judiciary system have become westernized over the years, and their Constitution provides the citizens of South Korea justice and fair law. The Constitution provides that court judges will judge independent according to their consciences and in conformity with the Constitution and law. Globally, South Korea has effective security because of their strong allies like the United States. However, communist North Korea does cause threat to the Republic concerning an unwanted policy of mutual accommodations instead of the North's current policy of unilateral imposition by force. The U.S., along with other nations such as the Soviet Union and China all have part in the maintenance of firm security commitments to the Republic of Korea. Justice and human rights within law enforcement in South Korea are based on the Constitution. Because of this strong document as the backbone in the Republic, Korean citizens are guaranteed the basic rights and freedoms to the utmost, which limits the exercise of governmental powers within law enforcement and wrongful mistreatment of individuals. Law enforcement is effective in South Korea because of the well-defined justice system and local government. The Constitution states in Article 118 that "local governments shall deal with matters pertaining to the welfare of local residents, manage properties, and may establish within the limit of laws and decrees, rules and regulations regarding local autonomy." (REF 2).

South Korea has come far from the country it once was when controlled by communism. It now has an established and effective democracy with laws as well as freedoms for its citizens as well as created a secure climate for conducting business.

1. Kim, Edward H. c. 1987. Facts About Korea. Pages 98-99. Hollym Corporation Publishers.

2. A Handbook of Korea Sixth Edition. c. 1987. Pages 47-50, 257,259,269,271-273,287,317.351,489. Seoul international Publishing House.

3. South Korea: World Factbook. Retrieved on October 15,2006cfrom:
4. Geography IQ-World Atlas-Asia-Korea, South. Retrieved on October 15,2006 from:

5. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific: Human Settlements. Retrieved on October 15,2006.

6. South Korea: Facts about the land, people, history. etc. Retrieved October 15, 2006 from

7. South Korea: Criminal Justice. Retrieved from

8. Foreign Law and Country Information. Retrieved on October 15,2006 from

9. National Police Agency-South Korea Intelligence and Security Agencies. Retrieved on October 15, 2006 from

10. A Country Study: South Korea. Human Rights. Retrieved October 15,2006 from

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Solution Summary

The legal systems in South Korea are often said to combine elements of continental European civil law systems, Anglo-American law and Chinese classical thought. The socio-cultural differences between South Korea and the United States are given.