[EDITORIALS]Don't Tamper With ImmunityThe confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties seems to be going to the extreme as lawmakers of the opposition party name the political heavyweights in the ruling camp who allegedly are involved in a series of scandals. The Millennium Democratic Party and Kim Hong-il, the eldest son of the president, filed libel suits against opposition lawmakers who accused him of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the prosecutor-general hinted at taking measures against the opposition lawmakers, suggesting that there might have to be some limits on the privilege of exemption from liability for lawmakers' speech in the National Assembly.
The constitution provides for immunity on words spoken by lawmakers in the course of their duties. The constitution guarantees lawmakers such privileges so they will perform their duties without hesitating, shedding light on the abuse of executive power and corruption.
The courts have interpreted the clause in a broad sense to respect the constitution's spirit. For example, the court dismissed a suit against Yoo Sung-hwan, a former lawmaker who distributed his speech before he delivered it to the National Assembly. The prosecution, citing the case of Mr. Yoo, decided not to indict Choo Mi-ae, a representative of the Millennium Democratic Party, who was brought up on libel charges in connection with a speech distributed before she delivered it before the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts. An opposition party member said parts of her address impugned his character.
Of course, there are limits on the immunity privilege, as there should be. The constitution says lawmakers should not be responsible for their acts outside the National Assembly done in the course of their duties at the Assembly. By extension, this acknowledges that they should be responsible inside the National Assembly for their activities there. For example, insulting others, violating others' privacy, violence, and hindering others' speech are all in violation of the National Assembly Act and the Assemblymen Ethical Practice Rules. Those who commit such acts can be punished by a stern warning from the speaker or be referred to the Special Committee on Ethics.
From the ruling party's perspective, the measures can look too soft. However, the lawmakers of the opposition parties could criticize the governments of the harsh military regimes because of the immunity privilege. Lawmakers should not try to limit their own privileges or the National Assembly's authority, even if they are simply pretending for the sake of political attacks.
The ruling party and the prosecution should not question the immunity privilege at this time. First, they should clear up suspicions by revealing the truth about the scandals.