Global Freedom of Expression

Ward of Songpa, Seoul Metropolitan City v. Election Commission of Seoul Metropolitan City

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    October 12, 2005
  • Outcome
    Access to Information Denied
  • Case Number
    2005 Kuhap 10484
  • Region & Country
    Korea, Republic of, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Administrative Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information
  • Tags
    Segregability, Public Officials

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Seoul Administrative Court held that local government officials are not entitled to request public information under the access to information law in their official capacity. As such, they do not qualify as “people” entitled to access government information under the law.

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On 28 January 2005, the Ward of Songpa, head of the local government, requested information from the Seoul Election Commission (Commission) on a report that the Ward had violated the Public Officials Election Act when hosting an event in honor of elderly people.  Specifically, the Ward wanted to know what had led the Commission  to suspect the Ward of a violation of the election law.

The Commission rejected the request, claiming that the Public Official Elections Act prohibits disclosure of the requested information in order to protect those who confidentially report on election-related crimes (articles 262-2), and thus the information is exempt from disclosure under the Official Information Disclosure Act (OIDA) (article 9(1)1).

The Ward appealed to Seoul Administrative Court on two grounds: (1)  even if  a portion of the requested information is exempt from disclosure, the Commission must separate the exempt portion of the information from the non-exempt portion, and release the non-exempt portion; and (2) the Commission’s vague denial of the request for the information violated the right to information (RTI) law.

Decision Overview

The Court held that the legal basis for the request – the OIDA – did not apply to the Ward because the Ward was acting in his official capacity.  The Court explained that the RTI law protects the right to know, which is derived from fundamental principles of people’s sovereignty, human dignity, pursuit of happiness, and right to live as a human being, and is included in the freedom of expression the Constitution guarantees as a basic right (Constitutional Court, 88 Honma 22, Sept. 4, 1989).

However, the Ward, acting as a local government institution, is fundamentally the subject of public authority in charge of local administration under the Constitution.  The conflict between the local government and the central or other public institutions, therefore, does not concern the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, rather it is a matter of hierarchy.

Because the local government institution  is not premised on the “natural rights of character,” the RTI law does not recognize it as the “people,” and it does not enjoy the same rights as the people, including the right to know and the associated right to access government information.

Decision Direction

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Contracts Expression

Global Perspective

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Table of Authorities

Case Significance

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Official Case Documents

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