Chapter 7: The making of public interest law in South Korea via the institutional discourses of Minbyeon, PSPD and Gonggam
On 2 September 1984, heavy rains and a faulty floodgate system resulted in the flooding of the Mangwon region in Seoul, affecting 17,900 households and over 80,000 people. Flood victims blamed the city of Seoul for failing to maintain the floodgates as well as Hyundai Construction, Inc. for defective workmanship. In the next month, 20 households representing 80 individuals brought the first series of lawsuits. The first lawsuit was finally won in August 1987, which found the Seoul city government liable for flood mismanagement.2 Within a week, 5,000 households involving over 20,000 people filed applications for compensation. Of these applications, 2,300 families qualified for compensation. Three consecutive waves of lawsuits went to court between 1989 and 1991, all of which were decided in favour of the plaintiffs. All told, the lawsuits took between five and seven years to litigate.3 The Mangwondong Flooding Incident is significant from a public interest law perspective for several reasons. First, the turnout in plaintiffs in 1989 was unprecedented in the history of Korean litigation. Second, that the government could be held liable for its actions in the courts was a phenomenal event in South Korean society, considering its past three decades of military rule and the doubtful judicial independence of this period. And, third, the attorney responsible for organizing the Mangwondong cases, Cho Yeong-nae, was the symbolic leader for a burgeoning public interest law movement in South Korea. While the Mangwondong cases were not called ‘public interest litigation’ at the time,
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