The National Assembly Act, which Suspends Examining Petitions, is Unconstitutional
The National Assembly should Repeal Article 125 Section 6 of the National Assembly Act and Enhance the Petition System
On Monday, June 19th, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Civil Society Alliance for the Enactment of a Coal-Free Korea filed a constitutional petition with the Constitutional Court seeking a ruling that both Article 125 Section 6 of the National Assembly Act, which allows the National Assembly to suspend the consideration of petitions indefinitely, and the failure of the National Assembly to consider petitions legitimately received are unconstitutional as they violate the constitutionally guaranteed right to petition.
In the 20th National Assembly, over 80% of petitions were automatically abandoned due to the Assembly’s failure to complete the review process before the end of its term. Similarly, the 21st National Assembly, with less than a year remaining in its term, is currently facing a situation where 85% of the received petitions have not been processed. It is crucial for the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of Article 125 Section 6, which is supposed to be reviewed within 150 days but allows for the indefinite suspension of petitions requiring more extended review periods, thus failing to guarantee the people’s right to petition.
On November 23rd, 2021, Jin Young-jong, a co-chair of the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and a constitutional petitioner, submitted a petition to the National Assembly that aimed to amend the National Assembly Act and the National Assembly Petition Review Rules to protect the people’s substantive right to petition (2100069), which was introduced by Representative Park Joo-min. Additionally, on September 30th, 2022, another petitioner, Lee Ji-eon, a former activist of the Korea Federation for Environmental Movement, submitted another petition to the National Assembly calling for the enactment of a coal phase-out law and the cancellation of new coal-fired power plants, which was accompanied by 50,000 signatures. However, the consideration of both petitions has been suspended until May 29, 2024, which coincides with the end of the term of the 21st National Assembly. This suspension is justified on the grounds that these petitions fall under the category of cases requiring long-term review, as stipulated in Article 125, Section 6 of the National Assembly Act, and that they have not yet been substantively discussed.
As of June 8th, 2023, a total of 133 petitions have been submitted to the 21st National Assembly. None of these petitions have been adopted, the plenary has rejected 20, and one has been withdrawn, resulting in a petition processing rate of 15%. Out of the 112 petitions that are currently pending, 91 have exceeded the 150-day review period since their referral. The oldest petition, referred to on July 8th, 2020, has been pending in the National Assembly for 1,066 days as of June 8, 2023. Among these pending petitions, 50 have not yet been reviewed by committee experts, and only about 15 have been partially discussed in subcommittees. The expiration of the 13th National Assembly term after democratization has led to a gradual increase in the rate of expired petitions. Especially in the 20th National Assembly, where the National Consent Petition System was established, the rate of expired petitions has reached an all-time high of over 80%. Article 125 Section 6 of the National Assembly Act should not be used as an excuse to evade thorough consideration of matters requiring long-term review. Instead, it is being widely abused, neglecting the duty to consider petitions and thereby violating the right of petitioners to have their concerns heard.
The constitutional right to petition requires not only entails the acceptance of a petition by a state agency but also requires its thorough consideration and notification of the petitioner regarding the outcome. It constitutes a violation of the right to petition when a petition is accepted but not reviewed or when the review process is incomplete and the petitioner is not informed of the outcome. While there might be circumstances where extending the review period becomes necessary due to challenges in evaluating the petition within the 90-day period(with a one-time extension of 60 days) established by the National Assembly Act, there is no limit to the length or number of extensions. Furthermore, the justification for such extensions is often unclear, which can lead to arbitrary extensions and undermine the transparency and accountability of the review process. As the petitioner is not provided with specific reasons for the extension and has no opportunity to challenge them, there are no mechanisms in place to prevent the potential abuse of the National Assembly’s power to extend the review period, which could potentially violate the right to petition.
Numerous bills have been introduced to amend the National Assembly Act in order to enhance the petition system. However, as the National Assembly has not actively participated in the revision process, a constitutional complaint has been filed to address the violation of the right to petition. Even before the Constitutional Court declares its unconstitutionality, it is essential for the National Assembly, with less than a year remaining in its term, to amend both the National Assembly Act and the National Assembly Petition Review Rules. This step is crucial to ensure that the petition system effectively protects people’s right to petition and conducts thorough reviews of the submitted petitions.
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