[EDITORIALS]A bad precedentSince Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae has exercised his right to give an order to the prosecutor general in order to prevent the prosecutors from detaining Kang Jeong-koo, a sociology professor at Dongguk University, for investigation, the prosecution is in turmoil. Senior prosecutors of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office and other prosecutors are holding meeting after meeting in order to gauge opinion within the prosecution, but with one side arguing acceptance of the minister’s order and others saying the prosecutor general, Kim Jong-bin, should resign in protest. Mr. Kim has delayed announcing his decision.
The case may be only the first in which the minister intervenes in an investigation. It looks like Mr. Chun will act similarly in the future as well. Regarding his intervention he said, “In the history of the constitution, this is the first time, but it’s strange that it has not happened before.”
Nevertheless, if the right to intervene is abused, investigations by the prosecution cannot be free of political influence. In addition, there are concerns that the current situation makes the investigations into cases that involve violations of the National Security Law harder, meaning in effect the scrapping of the law itself. It is because of these circumstances that the decision by the prosecutor general is so important.
The law that allows the justice minister to order the prosecutor general to direct a specific case, is designed to protect the neutrality and fairness of the prosecution. It affects only the prosecutor general. This means that the intervention should be used only when an investigation is biased. The problem is that in the case of Professor Kang Jeong-koo, there is no evidence that the prosecution lost its neutrality. This intervention infringes on the prosecution’s investigation rights. In addition, whether to detain someone or not is a matter that should be decided by the prosecutor.
The guarantee of the neutrality of the prosecution that sits as the highest investigatory authority of Korea is most important. If the justice minister intervenes in an investigation under the pretext that the law allows such actions, the independence of the prosecution is gone. To ensure the fairness and neutrality of the prosecution, the right of the justice minister to oversee and direct a specific case has to be abolished.
The prosecution should not forget that the independence of the prosecution has to be protected by the prosecution itself.