[VIEWPOINT]Revising investigation standards

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[VIEWPOINT]Revising investigation standards

The Ministry of Justice is preparing a bill to revise the “investigation regulations for the protection of human rights.” Suspicions over the violation of human rights during the investigation process by the prosecution and the police are not decreasing.
The regulations, which took effect this year, consist of 15 clauses. To protect the suspect’s human rights, these regulations clearly state rules the prosecution and the police should observe. They include the prohibition of cruel behavior, the guarantee of the right to have an interview with a lawyer, and the removal of confession-based investigation.
Article 6 stipulates that the prosecutor shall not announce the charges before a suspect is prosecuted, and information on an arrest or detention warrant and search warrant shall not be released to the public. The purpose of this article is to protect the suspect’s integrity and prevent an infringement on his privacy by a press release.
The bill recently proposed by the ministry says that the investigation process, including criminal charges and the summoning of the suspect, will not be disclosed from now on. If the regulations are revised this way, press coverage of criminal investigations will be restricted a lot.
The disclosure of criminal charges is prohibited by the current law too. But it is not entirely forbidden, because the people’s right to know should also be ensured. Therefore, the Supreme Court repeated its decision that criminal investigation agencies can, in principle, “announce facts based on objective and sufficient evidence or data regarding matters in which the general public takes an interest with good reasons.”
There are three main reasons that the public has the right to know about criminal investigations. The first is to confirm whether the social order is being maintained by punishing a law violator. The second is to prepare in advance by collecting information on crimes lest people be hurt. The third is to watch that the government does not abuse its authority.
Korea is a safe country, but the reality is that the people have a weak trust in the rule of law. Its main cause is the people’s distrust of the prosecution and the police. As the old investigation practices under the authoritarian governments still remain, suspicions over unfair investigations or cruel behavior have not ceased.
Given the reality that investigation of a suspect under detention still holds as a principle, that a forced confession is acknowledged as evidence, and that even the right to have an interview with a lawyer is greatly restricted, there is always the possibility of the prosecution or the police infringing on human rights.
No institutional devices to watch and check the prosecution, as in advanced countries, have been devised yet. To achieve justice, we have often appealed to public opinion through the media.
Of course, it is true that many press releases about crimes infringed on the human rights of the suspect and his family. The media hastily convicted suspects in the whirlwind of competition for a prompt report, and were often used as a means of publicity by investigation agencies. Accordingly, the reality is that the instant the media report the result of the prosecution’s investigation, the suspect person is treated as a criminal.
But this is not the overriding issue for government protection. The violation of human rights or dishonor by the media’s reporting can be relieved through legal action. What is more urgent is to clear suspicions over the infringement of the suspect’s human rights by investigation agencies.
The ministry should keep in mind that the public’s thorough surveillance of the prosecution is the only way for the prosecution to be totally freed from the disgrace of being called a “handmaiden to power” and to restore public confidence. I expect the ministry to come up with a rational bill in which the media’s function of surveillance and criticism over the prosecution’s irrational investigation practices is more thoroughly ensured and the suspect’s honor or privacy is more properly protected.

* The writer is a professor of Journalism at Soonchunhyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jang Ho-soon
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