“Juvenile Justice,” a 2022 South Korean legal drama series, starts with an outrage where the public demands that the juvenile act should be abolished and the perpetrators should be brought to justice, who otherwise escape the clutches of the law merely because they are underage. There is a snippet where a judge named Sim Eun Seok says in an interview that out of the 3000 odd judges in South Korea, only 0.6 percent work in juvenile courts. She says that it is because of this scarcity and her willingness to improve the juvenile justice system that she has taken the step to work in the juvenile courts.
Also, to understand the narrative of “Juvenile Justice,” it is essential to understand the technicalities of the juvenile system in South Korea. There are no prosecutors in the juvenile courts. The judges themselves take the onus of questioning the accused and then coming to a particular conclusion. After probation is granted to the child offenders, the judges also have to monitor them. The police do provide them with a basic background search and help in the investigation, but the onus a lot of times falls on the judges themselves. The window is kept wide open, and if the judge is not satisfied with the facts presented, then because of the gray area present in the law, they can themselves initiate an investigation on their own. It is a thin line where the probability of going ultra-wires is also there. The Juvenile Criminal Collegiate division in Yeonhwa District Court handled juvenile protection cases as well as juvenile criminal cases. The graveness of the matter and the punitive action taken by the judges differed greatly in both types of cases.
The main motive of the law is to not provide punishment to young offenders but to develop a system where they get a chance to reform themselves.
“Juvenile Justice,” a 10-episode series, is directed by Hong Jong Chan. The series explores the narrative and the characters through the various cases that come in front of the court, involving young offenders.
Case Number 1
The juvenile collegiate division gets a new judge on board, Sim Eun-seok. She is a stern-faced judge, known for taking strict measures. She states at the beginning of the “Juvenile Justice,” that she has no sympathy for the child offenders. She feels that a wrong should be seen as wrong and that relaxation in punishment should not be made just because the accused is a minor. Mr. Kang Won-joong is the head judge of the facility, and Cha Tae Ju is in a subordinate position to Sim Eun Seok. The grim new reality presents itself as soon as Justice Seok comes on board. It is not just a petty juvenile crime. It shakes the whole nation and makes it to the headlines.
A young boy named Ji Hu was murdered in broad daylight. His body was brutally mutilated into pieces and then carefully disposed of.
The biggest conflict in front of the judges was that though the maximum sentence in such cases amounted to 20 years, in the case of a young offender, i.e., under 14 years of age, it came down to merely two years. That is why there was an uproar in the general public. They thought it was unjust, and the justice department was under a great deal of pressure to deliver in accordance with the public perception.
Baek Seung-u, the 13-year-old accused, went to the police station and confessed his crime. He had a dagger that was smeared in blood. He took the defense that he had schizophrenia. According to his version of the story, Ji Hu, a young boy, wanted to call his mother. Baek Seung-u took him to his house, where he murdered him. But Judge Sim found an anomaly. People might witness different symptoms when suffering from schizophrenia, but one thing that remained common among all of them was that they were easily apprehended, and disposing of the evidence was not a common practice. Concentration is something that schizophrenia patients are devoid of, but the present case showed that the criminal had done proper planning to hide the evidence and conceal facts from the judge.
Judge Sim comes across the phone call record of Baek Seung where he had repetitively contacted one specific number. The CCTV camera footage showed that Baek Seung was not there in the elevator with the victim, but instead, there was a girl.
A mysterious girl named Han Ye-Eun comes into the picture. Judge Sim learns that she often visits a game arcade. She herself goes there and tries to catch her. After chasing her for some time, Judge Sim finally gets a hold of her. She gets to know that the girl’s parents lived in the U.S. and had appointed the Gazebo law firm as the legal guardian. Judge Sim, together with Cha Tae-Ju decides upon a plan of action. They asked Baek Seung’s mother to convince her son to make a confession, and in return, they promised that his sentence would be reduced. In the courtroom room, they cleverly turn both the accused against each other, and they end up blurting out all the facts. Han Ye-Sun got 20 years of imprisonment since she was over 14 years of age, and Baek Seung-u got level ten probation.
Case Number 2
A girl named Seo Yu-ri was admitted to the hospital because she was a suspected victim of assault. Judge Sim and Cha Tae-ju went to the hospital to inquire about the matter in more detail. She was on probation for theft and prostitution. Her parents had divorced when she was 12 years old, and she had been raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather was suffering from dementia and had been hospitalized for quite some time now. She used to work in a salon, and her colleagues told Judge Sim that often, there was an older man who came to pick her up. Yu-ri’s grandma conceals the real fact and tells Judge Sim that she might have fallen, and that is why she must have gotten the injuries. Judge Sim visits the facility where Yu-ri’s grandfather was admitted. She gets to know from the warden that Yu-ri’s father was known for his bad temper. She was not ready to talk about her injuries as it was her own father who had given them to her. Yu-ri knew that domestic violence is something for which there is no remedy. How do you fight your own family members? Which court would want to meddle in the personal matters of a family? It looks good on paper when we say that we should end domestic violence at all costs. It makes for a noteworthy campaign, but often the situation is not so black and white. Dubiety loomed over Yu-ri, which refrained her from taking any sort of action.
Judge Sim collected evidence against her father, Won Sik. There was a voice recording and testimony given by Yu-ri in the juvenile classification home. We come to know that Won Sik was abused by his father and eventually became the person he had always hated. It was a chain of events where one demon gave birth to another. Yu-ri’s self-destructiveness was a result of her wanting to go against the norms set by our society, because she had gotten nothing but pain throughout her life, without any fault of hers.
Case Number 3
Pureum Home was a foster care shelter where Mrs. O lived with eight foster girls and her two daughters. The Juvenile Criminal Collegiate division often made a visit to check if everything was in place. Just before they are about to enter, they get an intel that illegal activities like child abuse and embezzlement of funds were being carried out in the facility. The head judge, Mr. Kang, tells Judge Cha and Judge Sim to let it go. He was scared that if charges were pressed against Pureum shelter home, it would shut down, and as a result, it would make matters worse. There was already a shortage of shelter homes like these, and the court couldn’t afford another shutdown. Judge Kang gets a call for a TV interview and leaves the inspection to Judge Sim and Judge Cha. They do not listen to Mr. Kang’s advice and begin to question all the eight girls living there in order to know if child abuse was actually happening. They take into consideration the transactional accounts of the facility too. Two different versions come to light. The girls, on the one hand, tell the judges that whatever they had heard was actually true. They confirmed the fact that Mrs. O, the owner of the facility, didn’t treat them nicely. But Mrs. O has a totally different narrative that is in her favor. She tells the judges that, apart from taking disciplinary actions to ban activities like smoking, she has never treated the children harshly. The embezzled funds were also used for the surgery of a girl who used to stay in the facility, which is revealed later.
Once the judges leave, Mrs. O suddenly collapses. She was not able to take the stress of the fact that her foster home was going to be closed. She is taken to the hospital when her daughter, A-reum, hears the girls speaking ill of her mom. There was an anger that had been building up inside A-reum for quite some time. She felt neglected as Mrs. O often could not take out time for her. She was the one who had called the Juvenile Criminal Coliagete division to report child abuse. She thought that if charges were pressed, then the shelter home would close, and then she would get attention from her mother. But that didn’t happen, and the eight girls who were thrown out of the house landed in all sorts of trouble, and we got to witness the cause behind their behavioral approach. “Juvenile Justice ” explores their background, and we get to know the lacuna in their upbringing that has become the main cause of their convoluted personalities.
Case Number 4
Exam papers were leaked at Moonkwang High School, and the students were part of a group called Descartes, where all the papers were put. At around the same time, Judge Kang Won-joong was being offered a congressional position. He was leaving the legal field for good and joining politics. The last case that was handed over to him was the exam paper leak case. Moon Kwang High School was a high-profile institution. Children of ministers, judges, and other respected and powerful members of society used to attend classes there. The conflict arises when Mr. Kang gets to know that his son Sin-u was a part of the group some time back. To save his congressional position and his family’s honor, he does everything. He takes a biased approach, but Mrs. Sim stands in front of him and his desired goal.
Meanwhile, Sin-u tried to commit suicide as he felt guilty that because of his actions, he put the reputation of his father at stake. The truth comes out eventually. Mr. Kang revealed that he faltered a lot when it came to Sin-u’s upbringing. Unknowingly, he had put an insane amount of pressure on his son. Sin-u always wanted to impress his father, and his mother told him to join the Descartes group just for the English exam, as he was weak in it.
“Juvenile Justice” Case Number 4 also served as a harsh critique of our education system that has made us all part of a rat race. It’s a result-oriented system that quantifies an individual based on their marks. Nobody gives importance to the process per se. You can choose to run or not, but inevitably you become a part of the race.
Case Number 5
Kwak Do-Seok, a former delinquent, had once again committed a crime. He was involved in an underage accident case where the victim had died. From the CCTV footage, it is crystal clear that Kwak Do-Seok was riding with his friends and was solely responsible for the accident that took place.
The court receives a secret video, without any audio, from an unknown person, which reveals that Do-Seok was acting under the influence. Judge Sim and Judge Cha Tae-ju are not able to understand why a boy who was a trained martial artist would not retaliate even once. The video showed that he was mercilessly beaten by the very people who were sitting in the back of his car when he met with an accident. One thing was clear: those who were sitting at the back of his car were not his friends. But why he was being coerced by them was still unknown. Things fall into place when the audio from the video is brought back. Kwak Do-Seok was actually saving a girl named Mi-ju. The group had clicked her in compromising positions and Kwak Do-Seok, who had become a part of the group so that he could persuade them to delete them.
‘Juvenile Justice’ Season 1: Ending Explained
The last case of “Juvenile Justice” reveals why Judge Sim Eun-seok had such hatred inside her for the young offenders. Her child had been killed by juvenile offenders. Two boys, Hwang In-jun and Baek Do-hyeon, had thrown a brick from the terrace, and it hit her son, who died on the spot. The repugnance was emanating from there. Years later, Eun-seok finds herself facing those two boys who were accused of raping a girl. There was a conflict of interest, which she hid from the others and became the judge of the case herself. After Mr. Kang, Na Geun-hee was made the head judge. She was the same judge who had acquitted those boys in the brick case. Judge Sim recognized her the day she stepped into her office. The trial lasted only 3 minutes, which enraged Judge Sim even more. It just took 3 minutes for the convicts to be acquitted, even after taking the life of an innocent young boy.
When Judge Sim sees them years later, she once again experiences the same agonizing pain. She tells Baek Do-hyeon that he got a second chance because of his age, and yet he busts it. She is anguished at the fact that they do not feel any sort of remorse for their actions.
Baek Do-hyeon, Hwang In-jun, together with Dong-gyun and Gyeong-su, were convicted of rape and other crimes by head judge Na Geun-hee.
For all these years, Judge Sim Eun-seok had been clinging to her past. Her son, Namgung Chan, died in 2017. Five years had passed, but she didn’t seem to find an escape from all that hatred. In every offender, she found her child’s killer. She believed that committing an offense is like permanent branding, and just like the behavioral traits of an individual, it stays with them lifelong. She held a grudge, but little did she know that she was herself getting consumed by it.
From having an undeterred belief that criminals cannot be reformed to finally realizing that there are a whole lot of reasons that have to be taken into consideration, something changed inside Judge Sim Eun-seok, for good.
“Juvenile Justice” is a 2022 South Korean legal courtroom drama television series streaming on Netflix.