The Korean nation is currently divided between the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”). This research guide highlights University of Iowa Law Library holdings for South Korea. However, a limited selection of North Korean holdings, found mainly in the vernacular in the University of Iowa’s Main Library, are included as well.
Leanne Kim authored this Research Guide as part of the course requirements for the fall 2012 Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Advanced Legal Research course. Ms. Kim, who is fluent in English and Korean, has included Korean vernacular bibliographic records using Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Ms. Kim was a member of the Journal of Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems (TLCP), and graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law in May 2014.
Throughout its history the Korean peninsula has had periods of independent government and development, and other periods that involved Korea being dominated by the neighboring powers of China and Japan. Russia made a bid to dominate Korea in the early 20th century, but was defeated in its quest by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. Japan occupied Korea following the war, first as a protectorate in 1905, and then as an annexed possession in 1910.
Korea remained a Japanese possession until the close of the Second World War. The United States occupied the southern portion of the Korean peninsula and installed a proto-democracy, while the Soviet Union created a communist unitary state in the north. After the 1950 North Korean invasion of South Korea, the United States and UN allies fought the Korean War (1950-1953) against North Korea and its allies China and the Soviet Union. The ensuing stalemate resulted in Korea being divided at the 38th parallel.
Japan, influenced by the civil law traditions of 19th century France and Germany, imposed civil law practices during its long domination of the Korean peninsula. Both South and North Korea are now officially mixed civil law/customary law jurisdictions. This means that codes and custom are used, and that most judicial decisions are not decided according to the common law practice of stare decisis (precedent), but are instead decided on a case-by-case basis.
Today, South Korea is a presidential republic, and in 2013 elected its first female president. Legal influences on South Korea include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity (the latter accounting for over one third of the population). The traditional Korean legal system relied heavily community elders as mediators. Since World War II, South Korea has operated a modified civil law system. The organization of the courts includes trial and appellate courts, as well as a special constitutional court.
North Korea is a Marxist state, albeit one with Korean attributes, such as the system of “Juche” (self-reliance), the foundation of the country’s decades-long isolation from the rest of the world. Juche was pioneered by founding dictator Kim Il Sung, continued by his son Kim Jong Il, and continues under grandson Kim Jong-un. The North Korean legal system incorporates many socialist legal concepts into its system of courts. For example, judges are assisted by “people’s assessors,” lay members of the court who help ensure that a proletarian consciousness is maintained.