High Court Armed Forces Republic of Korea

The bench consists of military judges, except for summary judgment cases where a single military judge gives a judgment. Accused in military courts does not have the right to a jury trial. The members of the bench for general military courts and the High Military Court of Korea is three (3) military judges. However, if the case involves a crime prescribed by the Military Criminal Act and Military Secret Protection Act in which high-level knowledge and expertise in the field of military is required for sound judgment, a relevant lay judge may be designated and be appointed by the Convening Authority to the bench. If so, general military courts have one (1) lay judge and two (2) military judges, and the High Military Court of Korea may have two (2) lay judges and three (3) military judges for the panel for such cases.



Changes in the Names and the Composition of Judges in Military Courts


Lay Judges

Military Judges

Early days of ROK military establishment (Higher Military Council)


1 Legal Officer

1962 Courts-Martial Act

General Court-Martial


1 Legal Officer




2 Legal Officer

1987 Amendment

Changed the name:

Legal Officer Military Judge

1994 Amendment

General Military Court



High Military Court of Korea



2016 Amendment

(General Military Court)

3 Military Judges

(Only in exceptional cases, 1 lay judge appointed by the Convening Authority)



   Ⅰ . Military Judges

Each military service headquarter has ‘Military Court’, an agency organized under a direct command of each service Chief of Staff. This is not a ‘court’ which is an institution under the definition of the Military Court Act , but rather a human resource and materiel support organization in administrating military courts. To guarantee their independence from the Convening Authority, military judges are appointed by and under the command of either Minister of National Defense or each service Chief of Staff. There are four (4) divisions in the Army and two (2) divisions for each Navy and Air Force. Each division has four to five (4 - 5) military judges, among which three bench members are selected when a military trial is convened. Their work performances are evaluated by the Chief Judge and the senior judge of each division. Neither staff judge advocate nor the Convening Authority can evaluate their performance. Paralegals (non-commissioned officers) and stenographers are also part of the ‘Military Courts’ as an agency.


Military judges cannot be dismissed from service unless they are sentenced to imprisonment or other criminal punishments of higher degree. Any acts in the course of duties as military judge cannot be subject to any disciplinary actions or any other unfavorable dispositions. They cannot be subject to any disciplinary action or any other unfavorable disposition for their acts conducted in the course of their duties as military judge.



How can you become an attorney in Korea?

There are two ways to become an attorney in Korea. The first is to pass the judicial examination and become an attorney after a two   year training at the Judicial Research and Training Institute (‘JRTI’). While there is no qualification for taking this exam, this system will be abolished after 2017. The second is to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. Law schools are like an American three year graduate program operated by 25 universities nationwide. After 2017, the latter will be the only way to be admitted to the bar.



There are two ways to become a judge advocate in Korea. The first is a long-term career judge advocate, selected among attorneys, male or female, who have successfully finished the JRTI training or passed the bar exam after their law school training. Successful applicants are commissioned as captain, and are obligated to serve for minimum of ten (10) years with one opportunity to be discharged at the end of their fifth (5) year of service. Second is a conscripted, short-term judge advocate, selected among male attorneys who have not fulfilled their mandatory military service for the country. They are commissioned as first lieutenant, and are obligated to serve for three (3) years. Currently, there are around 550 judge advocates serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces.


   Ⅱ . Lay Judges

Lay judges are non-lawyer officers sitting together with the military judges to hear the case. Lay judges are appointed by the Convening Authority among officers of a given unit where the court is established who have experience as a commander in a rank of lieutenant colonel(O-5) or colonel(O-6). A staff judge advocate of the Convening Authority recommend candidates for lay judge appointment. Candidates must have no records of punishment and be an example to other soldiers and officers. At the beginning of each year, lay judges are appointed for each unit. When the Convening Authority convenes a trial that requires a lay judge, the Authority designates one among the appointed lay judges to adjudicate the trial.


   Ⅲ . Assistance of Counsel

The Constitution provides that any person, including those under the jurisdiction of military courts, have the right to prompt assistance of counsel. All cases heard by the military courts necessarily require defense counsels and their participation throughout the trial proceedings. In military criminal proceedings, the counsel advises the suspect during the investigation, attends the official examination for warrant issuance and defends the accused in the trial.


The accused may retain his or her own counsel in the military criminal proceedings. If he/she cannot afford one, the military courts have a pool of judge advocates and civilian attorneys from whom he/she can choose as his/her public defender. If a public defender is appointed for the accused, the court will pay the predetermined fee for the service.