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Judiciary impartiality under question: Panel

Evidence could help Chief Justice Kim’s efforts at wide reform
Jan 23,2018
An internal investigation by the Supreme Court concluded Monday that the judiciary’s administrative office had indiscriminately collected information about judges and created reports that could have violated judicial impartiality.

Wrapping up its 64-day probe, the investigation panel announced the outcome through the court’s intranet. Chief Justice Kim Meong-su ordered an internal probe into an allegation that his predecessor, Yang Sung-tae, managed a blacklist of judges critical of the judiciary’s leadership. The suspicion was already cleared by the Supreme Court’s internal panel in April last year, but Kim ordered a reinvestigation in November.

The reinvestigation concluded that there was no blacklist. It still said the National Court Administration created controversial reports in 2015 and 2016 that could have violated independence of judges.

The court administration office created a document in February 2015 on the appeals trial of Won Sei-hoon, former head of the National Intelligence Service accused of interfering in the 2012 presidential election. The Park Geun-hye Blue House made a query on the prospect of the appeal, and it responded, “We are indirectly trying to find the information of the judges operating the appeals trial.”

It added, “It was circumstantial evidence that the National Court Administration attempted to find out the judges’ intentions on a specific trial. This shows that the judicial administrative office could have affected a trial directly or indirectly based on the request of an outside organization such as the Blue House.”

According to the panel, the National Court Administration also collected detailed information about a judges’ research group on international human rights law. The members are considered liberal, and Kim, the current chief justice, served as its inaugural president.

The court administration collected specific information on the group and its members including their seminars, reactions of the participants and their private gatherings. Over the past years, the group led a campaign to decentralize the chief justice’s powers and organized a seminar on the issue.

The court administration created policies to counter the group’s academic seminars and a long-term measure to isolate its members from the judicial community, according to the panel. Plans to cut the budget to support the group and offer assistance to other groups to hold larger events were discussed.

The court administration also recruited insiders of the group to collect information on other members, including their activities using social network services.

“The National Court Administration is not an inspector or human resources management unit,” the panel said. “The contents of judges’ personal files go beyond the necessity of judicial administration. There are concerns that many of them violate judges’ independence.”

The panel said it did not have the authority to investigate whether those reports actually harmed judges and handed the outcome to Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim to make necessary follow-up measures.

The court administration was also suspected of having interfered in an election of the judges’ conference at the Seoul Central District Court. When a member of the human rights laws research group ran to head the conference, the court administration analyzed his rulings and background. It also analyzed the aftermath of the judge’s election and a plan to actively support another, more conservative candidate.

While the findings are expected to add momentum to Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim’s plan to reform the judiciary, the legitimacy and fairness of the probe was being questioned. Four of the six members on the panel are judges from the controversial research group.

The panel was also criticized for searching the computers of former and current officials of the National Court Administration without their consent.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]