Neutrality missing in courtsThe Supreme Court’s public servant ethics committee issued an advisory manifesto on group activities among members of the court. It advised against activities that are political or may undermine the objectivity of court personnel. Although the committee addresses all fraternity organizations active among judges, it apparently targets the controversial liberal group, the Society for Research on Our Law.
First of all, the manifesto emphasized that judges’ commitment to the courtroom is more essential than their freedom to participate in group activities. A judge’s duty is to define and reinforce justice through fair sentencing in the courtroom, not to meddle with colleagues’ appointments.
The committee’s statement is a rebuke to those like Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul, who was suspected of trying to influence judges under his authority. Shin received a warning after an internal probe by judges.
The committee went further than the probe and said that judges should never court controversy and should keep their distance from issues of popular dispute.
Of course, judges, like all citizens, are free to organize and join fraternity societies. The court needs research groups to ruminate, discuss and debate on the issues of the time. Otherwise the law will be static.
But as the committee pointed out, organizations of court justices should not be restricted and preferential. Excitement over an appointment of “a chief justice who shares our ideology” and welcoming his membership to the group is clearly an act of drawing lines between the group members and other justices. Such factionalizing among court members can erode the foundation of the court’s justice.
Members of the Society for Research on Our Law have shrugged off the ethics committee’s manifesto, as if they have nothing to be ashamed of. They are culprits of raising havoc in the court and society, yet they idly repeat their constitutional individual rights to form fraternity societies. But being judges, they must be well aware that freedom and rights are accompanied by responsibility and duty.
They are not alone. The entire judiciary and members of society must live with the two sides of the coin in a democratic system.
The Supreme Court is currently investigating over 200 private groups in the court. It aims to sift out which groups do not serve public interests. Those disqualified will have to reinvent themselves. Court members should not belittle this opportunity to regain the public confidence they lost through their power game.