Judges should be neutral

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Judges should be neutral

A controversy is heating up over whether judges should be allowed to express their personal political views on social networking services after Choi Eun-bae, a senior judge at the Incheon District Court, posted his opinions on the recent ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement on his Facebook page. He wrote the trade deal “amounts to a sell-off of our country and working-class people by the president and his economic bureaucrats, who are pro-American to the bone.” After his remarks stirred up public commotion in cyberspace, the Supreme Court has submitted the case to the Government Public Ethics Committee for review.

But Choi’s erratic behavior didn’t stop there, and he decided to give interviews to the liberal press. Those who side with the judge argue that expression of personal views via social media should be protected under the doctrine of personal privacy. Choi instantly shot to stardom in cyberspace with as many as 20,000 followers.

And several other judges who support Choi have jumped on the bandwagon by posting supportive messages on their own Facebook pages in what amounts to a long series of political views being broadcast on social networking sites.

There is no evidence that these judges have violated their code of ethics or the law because no existing rules currently restrict their freedom of speech on social media platforms. Given the lack of regulation, the Supreme Court has announced that its ethics committee will embark on an in-depth deliberation that will examine whether it is desirable for judges to make their personal political views public via social networking Web sites. The committee will discuss what guidelines should be established for such cases.

Considering our high expectations for judges, we are disheartened by the fact that some were involved in such brazen expression of their personal beliefs. Their job is to mediate and settle diverse forms of conflicts and disputes. It is our belief - as well as the social consensus - that judges must be neutral and express their opinions through rulings only.

Yet judges are not only spearheading a hot political debate online. They are also taking the lead in escalating the controversy. A judges’ code of ethics was enacted in 1995 after the conclusion that their behavior could hardly be controlled by their conscience and morality alone. But most citizens still want to believe that judges are faithful to their obligations to society, especially in respecting the principle of neutrality.

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