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(LEAD) Judges decide not to respond to alleged surveillance of judiciary by prosecutors

All News 19:41 December 07, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with details throughout; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean judges on Monday decided not to officially respond to allegations of surveillance of the judiciary by prosecutors, a politically explosive accusation that, if proven, could unseat the country's top prosecutor.

The National Conference of Judges, which meets biannually to discuss various issues affecting trials, said in a statement that while the issue was being discussed, more than a majority of the judges had reservations about the discussions being made public and wanted to remain cautious about the subject.

"Judges are obliged to uphold political impartiality, and there was common awareness of the need to guard against political interpretations of today's discussions and conclusion," it said in the statement.

The topic had been included on the agenda at the last minute, which drew wide media and public attention for its potential political implications.

Before the discussion began, the group said, judges would "comprehensively go over a series of topics and issues, including the prosecution's alleged spying on judges, with an aim to improve the independence of judges and impartiality of trials."

The conference, otherwise a low-profile event had it not been for the ongoing tug-of-war between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, has received unexpected public attention this year.

Last month, the minister suspended Yoon for six counts of alleged irregularities, including the surveillance allegation, the first time a justice minister has taken such a step in the country's history. Yoon has been restored after winning a court's injunction, but he still faces a formal disciplinary session on Thursday.

The conference was being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 120 judges participating.

This photo provided by the National Conference of Judges shows judges discussing various issues via teleconference on Dec. 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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