Cool down, prosecutors

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Cool down, prosecutors

A lengthy debate over the restructuring of investigative powers between the police and the prosecution was concluded as the National Assembly approved a reform bill Thursday. But prosecutors are strenuously protesting the revision of the Criminal Procedure Law. Senior prosecutors expressed their intentions to resign, and rank-and-file prosecutors are also complaining about the changes.

Although President Lee Myung-bak asked the prosecutors to show a mature attitude and to think about the issue from the perspective of the ordinary citizen, the crisis appears to be escalating. Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu, with only 40 days left in his term, expressed his intention to step down yesterday, and a vacuum in the prosecutors’ leadership is expected.

The prosecutors’ resistance is somewhat understandable. They criticized the National Assembly for making a last-minute compromise so that the details of how the prosecution will supervise police investigations will be decided by a presidential decree written in the future, not by an ordinance written by the justice minister, which was the original plan.

The presidential decree will require cabinet approval, and that gives room for political influence to be applied. The prosecutors’ argument that their political neutrality could be damaged has a point. And the prosecution’s authority will shrink if their supervision is limited in a way the police desire, which is what they fear.

Until now, specifics on investigations have been decided by the justice minister’s ordinance and specifics on trials are decided by Supreme Court regulations. The intention was to eliminate the president’s influence in investigations and trials. The National Assembly, however, opened a door for politics to intervene in the justice system. The Assembly’s legislative right must be respected. If the decision, however, was based on the police’s influence or a way of currying votes ahead of next year’s elections, it will be remembered as an abuse of the lawmakers’ legislative power.

And yet, it is undesirable for the prosecutors to take collective action. They must not forget their duty as public servants. The era of the prosecutors’ mighty power has ended. The public wants prosecutors to supervise police investigations rather than conducting their own probes. That’s why the police were given the partial right to open a case. The restructuring of investigative powers is not a zero-sum game. The people want a fair division of power and checks and balances.
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