Prosecution Must Clean Its Own House

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Prosecution Must Clean Its Own House

The Prosecution Must Take the Initiative in Discussing Measures for Its Reform

Public opinion is divided on the National Assembly''s aborted bid to impeach the prosecutor general and his deputy.

Some sectors believe it absurd of political camps to try to sit in judgment of the prosecution when both the ruling and opposition parties have been targets of its investigations for election irregularities. Others maintain that reforming the prosecution is a mandate that cannot be put off a minute longer, considering its failure to maintain integrity and neutrality in handling a series of high-profile loan-for-bribery, influence-peddling and bribery scandals that have agitated the nation since last year.

By encouraging it to abandon political neutrality, the political parties all played a part in the prosecution''s having become an impeachment target. It also seems inappropriate for the legislators to decide to reform the prosecution after becoming its sycophants when it was to their advantage. Even so, the National Assembly''s impeachment motion in itself cannot be faulted.

Prosecutors themselves have brought on the current crisis by colluding with political power and can blame no one but themselves This is why the only solution lies in their fundamental reform.

When the government tried to reform the judicial system two years ago, the justice ministry and the prosecution put up stiff opposition, emphasizing their function of exercising jurisdiction over criminal offences, and linking their reforms with court reforms. In the end, the task was handed over to the Judicial System Reform Committee, a presidential advisory body. The committee concluded that any attempts to reform the judicial system would end in failure under the current administration.

Its prediction couldn''t have been truer. The prosecution successfully and eloquently defended its organization. It listened carefully to all criticisms, studied the problems and developed strategies and tactics to fight back attempts for its renewal.

It resorted to highly polished logic for self-defense and stood firm on all of its positions. It refused to do away with a single superintendent public prosecutor''s position, nor to accept a pay cut or a downgrading in their job status. It also carried through its determination not to see the slightest curtailing of its criminal jurisdiction over any part of the society, whether government agencies, the public or the police.

From the beginning of its inauguration, it was easy to see how the current administration was going to treat the prosecution, which had been often used as a political instrument by past rulers to strengthen their power. The current administration rose to power after years of struggling as the opposition. It finally had the sword in its hands and it was going to cozy up to the prosecution.

At every available opportunity, the president patted the prosecution on the back and gave it encouragement.

Parliamentary legislators also gave subtle hints of being willing to work with the prosecution and overlooked its compromised integrity. They were fearful of the corruption they committed during election periods.

Then the opposition ?yesterday''s ruling party experiencing sharp conflicts of interests ?ecided to impeach the top-level prosecutors, a motion the ruling party blocked.

At least one thing became clear during the failed attempt to impeach the prosecution: It can no longer remain in the current form. This is why there is a broad public consensus on the dire need for its reform.

The prosecution managed to revoke a proposal for its reform two years ago, but made its renovation inescapable after continuing to collude with political circles, as has long been its wont.

It is now necessary for the National Assembly to stop its emotional and partisan confrontation over the impeachment motion. It is time for the legislators to seriously review the best ways to overhaul the prosecution. The ruling party particularly has to make an extra effort. It has already wasted precious time for political reforms after becoming mired in partisan wrangling over the impeachment motion.

The key to reforming the prosecution lies in making the president''s appointment of the prosecutor general subject to parliamentary approval and in devising ways to make the prosecution independent. But the Judicial System Reform Committee already presented specific reform measures in early 1998, which the prosecution adamantly refused to accept although they were the products of a thorough inspection and in-depth consultation between related officials and experts.

The National Assembly must take stock of this list of reform prescriptions if it is really serious about renewing the prosecution.

As for the prosecutors, they must stop feeling victimized and take the initiative in discussing measures for their reform. The prosecution''s past arrogance generated mistrust and ultimately caused it to end up as an involuntary target of reforms. It must not make the mistake of repeating this experience.

The court is also searching for ways of reform. The prosecution has to humbly accept the simple truth that initiating its own reform is the only solution for overcoming the current crisis.

Let''s hope the prosecution successfully revamps itself so that it doesn''t prompt another long, drawn-out battle for its impeachment.

The writer is a professor of public law at Seoul National University.

by Hong Joon-hyong

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