[EDITORIALS]First step for prosecutorsA policy committee of the Ministry of Justice decided to revise legal provisions that codify the prosecution’s practice of respecting a top-down order. The minister of justice, Kang Gum-sil, has accepted the proposal, so the revision will be enforced, soon removing an obstacle to reform of the prosecution.
The practice of prosecutorial seniority is stipulated in Article 7 of the Public Prosecutors Office Act. Originally it was intended to set a standard and keep a balance in investigations, arrests and indictments. But the clause, “The prosecutors will obey the order of their superiors on matters related to the prosecution” has further hardened the stiff hierarchy of the prosecution. When the prosecutors investigate a case involving politicians, the clause made it difficult for them to be fair and act on their own personal beliefs. It was also misused as a channel for outside pressure on investigators.
The side effects of the clause have long been criticized. In the course of reinvestigations of a series of financial scandals and independent counsel investigations, the problems of the clause were repeatedly exposed. In November, 2000, a prosecutor at the Seoul District Prosecutors Office confirmed that a senior intelligence agency official received a bribe from a suspect arrested on charges of financial fraud. But he could not investigate further since he could not get approval from his superior. But in September 2001, the case was reinvestigated and the bribery charge was verified. A financial scandal involving Lee Yong-ho and another involving the brother of a former prosecutor general were also dropped because of the clause.
Of course, reform of the prosecution cannot be accomplished only by abolishing the top-down order and giving refusal rights to junior prosecutors. The revision of the law should be the start of the prosecution’s reform.
We see a ray of hope in the prosecution. In the investigations of the Goodmorning City scandal and Hyundai Group slush fund, the prosecutors’ attitude has clearly changed. Prosecutors must take this opportunity to shed their authoritarian traditions.