Judges scolded for opinions online

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Judges scolded for opinions online

In an apparent warning to the judges who use social networking services to express personal opinions, Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae said yesterday that personal convictions must not be confused with a judge’s professional conscience.

At the appointment ceremony of 26 new judges yesterday, Yang stressed the importance of public confidence in the judiciary.

“No one accepts a verdict that is based on subjective, personal obstinacy that ignores a judgement of universal validity,” Yang said.

Yang’s remarks came as judges have posted messages over the past week criticizing the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement through social networking services. After the ruling Grand National Party used its majority to approve the deal on Nov. 22, several judges made public their opposition through Twitter and Facebook.

“You must remember that the most effective weapon to protect the integrity of a trial is the people’s trust in the judiciary,” Yang said.

“A judge should only rule on a case based on laws and conscience,” Yang said. “The conscience that we talk about is not a subjective personal value, but rather means the professional, objective conscience of a judge.”

He also said a justice’s conscience should be based on the healthy common sense of a society and should be fair enough to be shared with other judges.

The Supreme Court’s public ethics committee said Wednesday it would create guidelines for judges’ usage of social networking services and urged members of the bench to “exercise their discretion.”

But some judges called that an attempt at censorship. Kim Ha-neul, a 43-year-old senior judge of the Incheon District Court, started to organize judges to analyze the FTA.

Kim posted a message on the intranet of the court system. “After analyzing the discussion programs on the FTA, I came to agree that it includes toxic clauses, especially infringing upon our judicial sovereignty,” he wrote. “I came to agree that there is a possibility that the FTA is unfair to us.”

Kim said the judiciary must present its opinions because it has the final right to interpret the trade pact.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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