[EDITORIALS]Human rights move aheadThe Supreme Court has ruled that a defense counsel should be allowed to be present when prosecutors question Song Du-yul, a Korean-German sociologist. In view of the practice here that bans the presence of a counsel during investigation, the decision marks progress in human rights protection.
Clause 4, Article 12 of the Constitution stipulates: “Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to prompt assistance of counsel.” However, the prosecutors allow only the defendants to be interviewed by counsel, barring them from questionings. Prosecutors say the law does not stipulate their attendance during questioning. On the other hand, bar associations have maintained that there is no legal ground to justify the prosecution’s position.
The court’s decision is significant in that it provides an occasion for protecting the human rights of defendants. In the ruling, it said, “For any person who is arrested or detained, the right to meet and communicate with a counsel is a necessary and indispensable right for protecting human rights and preparing for defense. This right cannot be violated as long as there is no law limiting it.” In the past, numerous human rights violations were committed during investigations. The most typical is the beating to death of a suspect at the Seoul Prosecutors Office in October last year. In that sense, the decision can be compared with the Miranda rights case in the United States
The decision does not mean allowing the unlimited presence of a defense counsel. The court made it clear that it can be limited when there are objective and obvious reasons, such as the obstruction of questioning or possibility of the leaking of investigation information. However, it seems that investigation reports prepared in the absence of a defense counsel will not be accepted as evidence in the courts.
The prosecutors and police must change their practices and methods of investigation to suit a defense counsel’s presence. They must also strengthen the education of their staff on human rights protection. The court’s decision must be an occasion for establishing human rights-oriented investigations.