Judiciary of North Korea
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In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), the Central Court is the highest court, with its judges appointed by the Supreme People's Assembly. According to the Constitution of North Korea, the Central Court is accountable to the Supreme People's Assembly, and the Criminal Code subjects judges to criminal liability for handing down "unjust judgments".
The North Korean Constitution guarantees judicial independence and requires that court proceedings be carried out in accordance with laws containing elaborate procedural guarantees. Article 157 of the Constitution states that "cases are heard in public, and the accused is guaranteed the right to a defense; hearings may be closed to the public as stipulated by law". The lack of judicial independence is also evidenced by Article 11 of the Prosecution Supervisory Law that stipulates “The prosecutor(s) shall supervise whether the trial or arbitration of a case is accurately deliberating and resolving the legal requirements and in a timely manner.” By the right of the prosecution to supervise all trials and arbitrations, prosecutors have authority over judicial proceedings.
Subordinate to the Central Court are provincial courts at the intermediate level, and "people's courts" at the lowest level. Prosecutors are grouped under separate, parallel chains of command subordinate to the Central Procurator's Office, which supervises local procurators' offices at provincial and county levels. Judges are elected for three-year terms by the Supreme People's Assembly. There are also a number of provincial and people's courts whose members are elected by local people's assemblies. The Constitution states that justice is administered by the Central Court, Provincial or special-city level courts, the People’s Court or Special Courts, and the courts are accountable to the Supreme People’s Assembly or when it is not in session, its Presidium. The tri-level court system consists of a Central Court, twelve provincial courts, and approximately 100 people’s courts. The Central Court, the highest court of appeal, stands at the apex of the court system.
In the case of special cities directly under central authority, provincial or municipal courts serve as the courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases at the intermediate level.
At the lowest level are the people’s courts, established in ordinary cities, counties, and urban districts. They are organized at the county (gun) level even though they may have jurisdiction over more than one county or smaller city. They have initial jurisdiction for most criminal and civil cases. Its decisions can be appealed to the Provincial Court. Lower courts usually have one judge and two people’s assessors. Although, regional people’s assemblies elect the judges and people’s assessors in principle, the SPA Standing Committee appoints all candidates.
So-called “anti-State crimes” committed by anti-revolutionary hostile elements in opposition to the people’s regime and the Workers' Party of Korea are treated as political crimes, and the State Security Department (the secret police) handles their investigation as well as the preliminary examination. Unlike ordinary criminal cases, the provincial and major city courts function as the primary (first level) court for all political crimes. The jurisdiction on the investigation and preliminary examination is strictly defined and practiced under the criminal procedure law. If the Ministry of People’s Security or the prosecution or any other agency has arrested a spy or an anti-party, anti-system criminal, it is required to transfer the case to the State Security Department.
- Korea Institute for National Unification, 2011 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, pg. 180-81.
- Article 162 of the North Korean Constitution
- According to Article 157 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the Court Procedure Law, a court will consist of one judge and two “people’s jury members”
- Articles 122 and 124 of the Criminal Procedure Law
- Article 127, Criminal Procedure Law