Dismissing Judge: Impeached for a Lack of Awareness of Office’s Heavy Duties

Judges must be trusted by the public, but one judge repeatedly made social media posts that harmed the family of a crime victim and others. One can only call this an act that disregards the weight of the job’s duties.

The Diet’s Judge Impeachment Court recently ruled to dismiss Sendai High Court Judge Kiichi Okaguchi, who was accused of harming family members of a murder victim through inappropriate social media posts.

In 2017, Okaguchi posted on social media about the murder of a high school girl in Tokyo and seemed to make mockery of the case. Then he repeatedly made posts related to another court case he was not in charge of.

Despite strict warnings and admonitions from the courts, he did not stop posting on social media. The latest impeachment ruling said his posts were “undeniably offensive to the dignity of the victim’s family and the victim herself. Okaguchi’s acts must be called extremely thoughtless.”

Okaguchi has become the eighth judge to be dismissed from duty since the impeachment system began in 1947, but most of the past cases were due to criminal acts. Although Okaguchi was not accused of a crime, the ruling was probably based on an understanding that such actions by a judge could not be overlooked.

According to the Constitution, judges can only be dismissed from office by an impeachment trial, except in cases of mental or physical disability. Judges’ tenure is firmly guaranteed so they can conduct fair trials and foster public trust in the judiciary.

Okaguchi’s posts lacked dignity and made light of these ideals. Who would want to entrust an important trial to a judge who continues to indiscreetly make posts that hurt people’s feelings? The dismissal ruling can be said to be the inevitable consequence of his actions.

Okaguchi has written many legal books and was influential on social media, with his account followed by more than 30,000 people. It is not surprising that the victim’s family members and others felt that their murdered daughter had been insulted in front of many people and were distressed.

This is the first time that social media posts were the subject of accusations in an impeachment trial. Some have opposed the ruling to remove Okaguchi from office on the grounds that it could restrict the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

Freedom of expression must be respected. However, the Constitution states in Article 12 that the people “shall refrain from any abuse of these freedoms and rights.” We cannot write whatever we want on social media. Needless to say, content harmful to others should not be allowed.

Judges have especially important roles in which they rule on crimes and disputes. It goes without saying that they must be cautious in posting information online, even if it is not related to their duties.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 6, 2024)