PSPD in English About PSPD 2021-03-09   1639

Top Ten Public Interest Litigations that Changed the World

Top Ten Public Interest Litigations that Changed the World


As of November 9th, 2020, 20 years have passed since the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(hereinafter ‘PSPD’) Public Interest Law Center’s founding. While filing over a hundred lawsuits in many sectors, we experienced both victory and loss. Nevertheless, we were able to tackle unconventional arguments that advocated to improve human rights and resolve social discrepancies. We have selected ten major cases to address the value and accomplishments of public interest litigation. 




1. For the first time, hearing loss, nervosity, and insomnia due to airplane noise were held responsible by the government.

Title: Class action filed by Gimpo International Airport nearby residents due to noise pollution 

Type: Compensatory damage case

Result: Win

Filed date: July 29, 2002

Decision date: November 15th, 2007


After Gimpo International Airport’s construction, civilians residing nearby suffered from noise pollution; even worse, some were disabled. In February 1999, when no one was paying attention to this issue, PSPD lawyers filed a lawsuit against the government. One hundred fifteen civilians had participated in the litigation as plaintiffs and eventually won in May, 14th 2002. 


Furthermore, Young-dong Choi, PSPD Public Interest Law Center lawyer, sought compensatory damage for 9,600 civilians. As a result, each civilian was compensated from 170,000 to 2,000,000 Korean Won. Notably, this was the first public interest litigation that addressed the noise pollution from airplanes and emphasized the right of view and light. 


2. Back then, no one could talk about the president and congressional candidates.

Title: Constitutional court case against Election Act Art. 93 para.1. that violated the freedom of expression

Type: Constitutional petition

Result: Unconstitutional, in certain contexts

Filed date: September 4, 2007

Decision date: December 29, 2011


Before the 17th presidential election in 2007, the National Election Commission had started to regulate websites due to Article 93, paragraph 1. of the Public Official Election Act. At the time, 90,000 people who commented about a particular presidential candidate were investigated by the police and prosecutor. Consequently, we realized it was necessary to revise the election law. We filed a constitutional petition with six civil society organizations and 192 civilians. 


The Constitutional Court of South Korea has agreed that the civilians were disadvantaged by the excessive regulation; thus, it was found unconstitutional, in certain contexts. Afterward, this litigation led to a revised election law, which allowed online & SNS election campaigns(except during the election day) at all times. However, there still is a core problem regarding Article 93, and the Public Interest Law Center has filed an additional petition. As of 2021, we are waiting for the result. 


3. Citizens simply wanted to walk around Seoul Plaza, but the police bus wall  blocked it

Title: Constitutional petition filed against police action blocking Seoul Plaza 

Type: Constitutional petition

Result: Unconstitutional

Filed date: July 20, 2009

Decision Date: June 30, 2011


On May 23, 2009, the Mayor of Seoul prohibited former President Moo-hyun Roh’s memorial that was planned to be held at Seoul Plaza. On the basis of the 5th and 6th articles of  ACT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES BY POLICE OFFICERS, the police had blocked Seoul Plaza. To subjugate the unrest and criminal acts, the passageway in Seoul Plaza was blocked. However, the memorial was neither a criminal act nor an imminent one. 


Citizens of Seoul filed a constitutional petition because their right to freely pass Seoul Plaza was violated. The Constitutional Court has found it unconstitutional. Even after the verdict, the armed police forces continued to block the Populace Protest in 2015. The right to peaceful assembly is one of the fundamental rights of constitutional law and there should be lawmaking that prohibits the interruption of police during a peaceful protest. 


4. Internet real-name system Out!

Title: Constitutional petition due to coercive online personal verification

Type: Constitutional petition

Result: Unconstitutional

Filed date: January 25, 2010

Decision date: August 23, 2012


As mean comments online arose as a public issue in January 2010, the Internet real-name system had expanded when writing or commenting online. Consequently, the majority of widely used web portals and press websites were enforced to verify their users’ real-name. However, the internet real-name system policy was violating the right to anonymous free speech, right to privacy, and right to equality. In 2007, since when the internet real-name system was effectuated, the Public Interest Law Center had perceived that the government was forcing SSN verification; and filed a constitutional petition on January 25, 2010. In 2012, nine justices had all agreed that the ground law was unconstitutional, and the internet real-name system had disappeared. This was a noteworthy step that escalated the freedom of expression. 


5. Enough of search and seizure! Stealing 7 years of email record, at least they should be liable for solatium.

Title: Action for damages against the government for search and seizure of the superintendent electoral candidate Kyung-bok Joo

Type: Action for damages

Result: Partial win

Filed date: October 10, 2012

Decision date: November 15, 2013


In 2008, email accounts of the superintendent electoral candidates of Seoul, Kyung-bok Joo, and NGO director Lae-gun Park were searched and seized by the investigative department. The charges were violating election law and freedom of peaceful assembly. However, the search notice was not addressed directly to the suspects and personal emails were also searched. The Public Interest Law Center persuaded Joo and filed a lawsuit against the government for violating the criminal procedure by failing to notify the search and seizure process of the suspect.


In 2013, the Seoul High Court had acknowledged that some of the search and seizure was unnecessary for the investigation. Also, the court had acknowledged that searching through personal emails was the professional negligence of the prosecutor’s office. The court ordered 7,000,000 KRW of compensation. This was an opportunity to confirm that by the Constitutional demand, abuse of rights should be minimalized during a coercive investigation. 


6. Taking legal action against telecommunication companies that never notified me of the investigative department’s gained access to my personal information 

Title: Claim for damages and petition for refusing to disclose personal information

Type: Action for damages

Result: Partial win

Filed date: April 29, 2013

Decision date: February 12, 2019


In 2012, the investigative department started to search and gain civilians’ personal information without authorization or warrant. According to the Korea Communication Commission, there were 395,061 personal information and 3,856,357 phone numbers searched during the first half of 2012. Annually, about 8 million personal information were searched without the permission of individuals. Most importantly, it was not notified. 


In April 2012, the Public Interest Law Center had started a campaign demanding telecommunication companies to disclose the access of personal information by the investigative department. As the companies denied disclosure, the Public Interest Law Center filed two lawsuits, a claim for damages and a petition on refusing to abide by the claim of disclosure in April 2013. As a result, we won. The victory was achievable due to the active participation of the PSPD members. 


7. Prohibiting peaceful assembly in front of the National Assembly is unconstitutional

Title: Constitutional petition filed due to restricting a peaceful assembly within 100 meters from the National Assembly

Type: Constitutional petition

Result: Unconstitutional

Filed date: September 26, 2013

Decision date: July 12, 2017


In 2011, the Public Interest Law Center had started a campaign named ‘The National Assembly back to the people.’ However, the problem had occurred due to Article 11, paragraph 1 of the ASSEMBLY AND DEMONSTRATION ACT which prohibits “protest within 100 meters of the National Assembly.” The Secretary-General of the PSPD was fined 2,500,000 KRW due to taking a part in an assembly within 100 meters from the National Assembly. Therefore, the Public Interest Law Center had filed a constitutional petition against the government for violating people’s right to peaceful assembly. Even though it took five years, the verdict was unconstitutional. However, in March 2020, the 20th National Assembly revised the law to increase the discretion on assembly permission of the police. Unfortunately, the National Assembly had ruined 5 years of effort.


8. Excessive political surveillance by Korea Communications Commission during the Park Geun-hye government

Title: Litigation against the Korean Communications Standards Commission on excessive political regulation

Type: Administrative litigation

Result: Win

Filed date: November 27, 2013

Decision date: January 15, 2020


During the Lee Myeong-bak and Park Geun-hye government, the Korea Communications Commission often restricted mass media reports that criticized the government. This was a serious violation of freedom of speech and the right to know. In March 2013, the Korea Communications Standards Commission took severe disciplinary action against a channel that programmed documentaries criticizing two former presidents. Simply taking disciplinary action because the documentaries criticized previous presidents was clear political persecution. The Public Interest Law Center spent 7 years on a petition to revise the unjust and inordinate administrative disposition. As a result, we were able to win the litigation against the government in January 2021. Some public litigations can take a while to gain the result, but it was truly worth it. 


9. Apparatus of democracy needed for collaboration between government authority and technology

Title: Constitutional petition filed due to the National Intelligence Service’s network tapping

Type: Constitutional petition

Result: Unconstitutional

Filed date: March 30, 2016

Decision date: December 19, 2018


In 2015, the National Intelligence Service started an investigation regarding Kim Doe’s violation of the NATIONAL SECURITY ACT. One of their methods of investigating was tapping Kim’s internet service line; ‘packet tapping’. However, the network was used by other colleagues as well. The National Intelligence Service’s investigation was also tapping innocent civilians after all. 


In 2016, the Public Interest Law Center and the Civil Society Network for monitoring Governmental Authority decided to file a constitutional petition on the purpose of revising the PROTECTION OF COMMUNICATIONS SECRETS ACT. In 2018, the Constitutional Court had decided that the second paragraph of the fifth article of the Act is unconstitutional. This was a notable petition that it is necessary to install a democratic apparatus that can guarantee people’s fundamental rights on the technology used by government authority. 


10. The Lawsuit that supported the impeachment of Park Geun-hye in 2016 – 2017

Title: Administrative petition to gain permission to continue the peaceful assembly

Type: Administrative Injunction

Result: Granted

Filed date: November 11, 2016

Decision date: December 2, 2016


In October 2016, when the influence-peddling by Choi Soon-sil, Sewol ferry disaster truth, and farmer Baek Nam-gi’s death by water cannon was revealed, citizens started to head out to the streets. However, the police had restricted peaceful assembly and protest in certain ranges from the president’s office(Blue House), addressing that it can potentially become a riot and harm the traffic. 


On October 29th, when the first peaceful protest was held, the parade was prohibited in front of the Gwanghwamoon. On November 5th, the Public Interest Law Center had filed a provisional disposition against the prohibition above and received an injunction from the court to proceed with the assembly. However, the police tried to block the parade nearby the Blue House. Without giving up, the Public Interest Law Center filed a provisional disposition. By November 11th, civilians were able to continue their parade up to 100 meters away from the Blue House. This was a historical and noteworthy petition that became the springboard for two million civilians to continue their protest which lasted for six months.


PSPD Public Interest Law Center had filed various petitions that were often experimental and incipient. Our main goal was not to always win but to increase public attention, gain social advocates for revising unreasonable laws, and uplift the consciousness of human rights. Even at the current moment, we are requesting the Ministry of Justice and the Court to exempt from the ‘loser pays all’ rule when filing public litigation. On the other hand, we are requesting the National Assembly to pass the one-way fee-shifting policy. Adequate lawmaking is pivotal for us to actively engage in public litigations.


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