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South Korean court orders easing of decades-old abortion ban
Court Watch | 2019/04/09 00:07

In a major reversal, South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the easing of the country's decades-old ban on most abortions, one of the strictest in the developed world.

Abortions have been largely illegal in South Korea since 1953, though convictions for violating the restrictions are rare. Still, the illegality of abortions forces women to seek out unauthorized and often expensive procedures to end their pregnancies, creating a social stigma that makes them feel like criminals.

The court's nine-justice panel said that the parliament must revise legislation to ease the current regulations by the end of 2020. It said the current abortion law was incompatible with the constitution and would be repealed if parliament fails to come up with new legislation by then.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed, court officials said, but current regulations will remain in effect until they are replaced or repealed.

An easing of the law could open up the door to more abortions for social and economic reasons. Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, when a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes her health, or when she or her male partner has certain diseases.

A woman in South Korea can be punished with up to one year in prison for having an illegal abortion, and a doctor can get up to two years in prison for performing an unauthorized abortion.

Thursday's verdict was a response to an appeal filed in February 2017 by an obstetrician charged with carrying out about 70 unauthorized abortions from 2013-2017 at the request or approval of pregnant women.

Most other countries in the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the so-called most developed countries, allow abortions for broad social and economic reasons. South Korea is one of only five OECD member states that don't allow such abortions, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The South Korean public has been sharply split over the abortion law. There have been heated panel discussions on TV and internet programs; activists, both for and against, have for months stood with placards near the court. Dozens gathered on Thursday.


Spacey’s lawyers returning to court in bar groping case
Attorney News | 2019/04/04 22:44

A judge will consider motions filed by lawyers for Kevin Spacey, who’s charged with groping an 18-year-old man on Nantucket in 2016.

The Oscar-winning former “House of Cards” actor won’t be present for Thursday’s hearing at Nantucket District Court.

Spacey’s attorneys have been seeking to preserve phone and electronic records between the man — who says Spacey unzipped his pants and fondled him — and the man’s girlfriend at the time. The assault allegedly occurred at a restaurant on the island off Cape Cod where the young man worked as a busboy.

Spacey pleaded not guilty in January to felony indecent assault and battery. His lawyers have called the accusations “patently false.”

It’s the first criminal case brought against Spacey after several sexual misconduct allegations crippled his career in 2017.


Texas bans clergy from executions after Supreme Court ruling
Court Line | 2019/04/03 05:50

Texas prisons will no longer allow clergy in the death chamber after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the scheduled execution of a man who argued his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser couldn’t accompany him.

Effective immediately, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will only permit prison security staff into the execution chamber, a spokesman said Wednesday. The policy change comes in response to the high court’s ruling staying the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the “Texas 7” gang of escaped prisoners.

Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates into the room where they’d be executed, but its prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics.

In light of this policy, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas couldn’t move forward with Murphy’s punishment unless his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state’s choosing accompanied him.

One of Murphy’s lawyers, David Dow, said the policy change does not address their full legal argument and mistakes the main thrust of the court’s decision.

“Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol,” Dow said

Murphy’s attorneys told the high court that executing him without his spiritual adviser in the room would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The 57-year-old — who was among a group of inmates who escaped from a Texas prison in 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including one where a police officer was fatally shot — became a Buddhist while in prison nearly a decade ago.


Philippine Supreme Court orders release of drug war evidence
Court Line | 2019/04/02 05:51

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release of police documents on thousands of killings of suspects in the president’s anti-drug crackdown, in a ruling that human rights groups said could shed light on allegations of extrajudicial killings.

Supreme Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the court ordered the government solicitor-general to provide the police reports to two rights groups which had sought them. The 15-member court, whose justices are meeting in northern Baguio city, has yet to rule on a separate petition to declare President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign unconstitutional.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida had earlier agreed to release the voluminous police documents to the court but rejected the requests of the two groups, the Free Legal Assistance Group and the Center for International Law, arguing that such a move would undermine law enforcement and national security.

The two groups welcomed the court order. “It’s a big step forward for transparency and accountability,” said Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, who heads the Free Legal Assistance Group.

He said the documents will help the group of human rights lawyers scrutinize the police-led crackdown that was launched when Duterte came to office in mid-2016, and the massive number of killings that the president and police say occurred when suspects fought back and endangered law enforcers, Diokno said.

“This is an emphatic statement by the highest court of the land that it will not allow the rule of law to be trampled upon in the war on drugs. It is a very important decision,” said Joel Butuyan, president of the Center for International Law.

“These documents are the first step toward the long road to justice for the petitioners and for thousands of victims of the ‘war on drugs’ and their families,” Butuyan said.

More than 5,000 mostly poor drug suspects have died in purported gunbattles with the police, alarming Western governments, U.N. rights experts and human rights watchdogs. Duterte has denied ordering illegal killings, although he has publicly threatened drug suspects with death.

The thousands of killings have sparked the submission of two complaints of mass murder to the International Criminal Court. Duterte has withdrawn the Philippines from the court.

After holding public deliberations on the two groups’ petitions in 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the solicitor-general to submit documents on the anti-drug campaign, including the list of people killed in police drug raids from July 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017, and documents on many other suspected drug-linked deaths in the same period that were being investigated by police.


Australian man loses bullying-by-breaking wind court case
Legal Focuses | 2019/03/29 18:05

An Australian appeals court on Friday dismissed a bullying case brought by an engineer who accused his former supervisor of repeatedly breaking wind toward him.

The Victoria state Court of Appeal upheld a Supreme Court judge's ruling that even if engineer David Hingst's allegations were true, flatulence did not necessarily constitute bullying.

Hingst said he would take his case to the High Court, Australia's final court of appeal. The 56-year-old is seeking 1.8 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) damages from his former Melbourne employer, Construction Engineering.

Hingst testified that he had moved out of a communal office space to avoid supervisor Greg Short's flatulence.

Hingst told the court that Short would then enter Hingst's small, windowless office several times a day and break wind.

Hingst "alleged that Mr. Short would regularly break wind on him or at him, Mr. Short thinking this to be funny," the two appeal court judges wrote in their ruling.

Hingst said he would spray Short with deodorant and called his supervisor "Mr. Stinky."

"He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day," Hingst said outside court.

Short told the court he did not recall breaking wind in Hingst's office, "but I may have done it once or twice."

Hingst also accused Short of being abusive over the phone, using profane language and taunting him.

The appeal judges found Hingst "put the issue of Mr. Short's flatulence to the forefront" of his bullying case, arguing that "flatulence constituted assaults."

The court found that Short did not bully or harass Hingst. Hingst had failed to establish that Construction Engineering had been negligent.


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