[Viewpoint] Investigative rights for both sidesFights have become common these days. Fistfights broke out at a political party convention, doctors threw fish sauce at each other during their meeting and judges used vulgar words. Prosecutors and police are supposed to maintain law and order, but they are also fighting each other over investigative authority.
The conflict between them began this summer, with the prosecutor general quitting over the matter. Despite a compromise plan from the Prime Minister’s Office, the two sides have continued to clash. The police are particularly resisting the changes. The nation’s 15,000 detectives said they would return their badges, while rank-and-file cops demanded that the police commissioner step down. From a police precinct captain to National Police Agency Commissioner Cho Hyun-oh, police are declaring their intentions to resign. The conflict appears to show no sign of ending.
The key point of the confrontation is why the police have to report their initial probes to the prosecution. The police complain that allowing the prosecution to order the police to hand over probes infringes on the neutrality of an investigation. Opening a probe based on tips is one of the most powerful weapons for the police. If prosecutors control such tips, the police will have no power, they say.
In fact, the prosecution is not just a supervisory authority. It is in competition with the police for investigations. It is an unfair game, based on market theory, that a powerful rival is given the right to control information and to suspend an investigation. If law enforcement authorities say that it’s a complex matter that shouldn’t be commented on by an outsider, I will stop here.
But the trouble is that the conflict between the prosecution and the police is relevant to the people. Once an investigation begins, the people who are involved are assumed to be guilty. For the public, it’s better when they are questioned safely and when more rights are protected.
Some questions arise. Under the current proposed changes, the prosecution is to command the police investigation and take over the management of informants to protect their rights. The prosecution, however, is an investigative authority, not a human rights body. In fact, the series of scandals involving a female prosecutor who received expensive bribes showed that the prosecution provides convenient services to people with connections to prosecutors.
That means that ordinary citizens may face unfair treatment. Even Representative Park Joo-sun, a former prosecutor from the powerful central investigation unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, criticized the failure of prosecutors to win the public’s trust because they often try to protect their own members.
To monitor the prosecution’s independence, some argue that it is necessary to create an inspection committee with outsiders. The prosecution’s independence has been questioned for a long time. It is, therefore, uncomfortable to give the prosecution the sole right for investigation and intelligence on top of its right to file indictments.
Outside monitoring is not enough to change an institution’s long-time behavior. Whether it is an individual or a group, it has already been proven in the market that competition is the most effective tool to change one’s nature. It is beneficial for the public that the prosecution and the police compete in an investigation. Human rights can be protected when the system works properly and when the two rivals act as a check on each other.
The current chaos was prompted by lawmakers’ attempt to weaken the prosecution’s powers at the end of the president’s term. Initially, the plan was to shut down the central investigation unit, create a special investigative authority and coordinate the investigation rights between the prosecution and the police.
While the two key agendas of the police reform quietly disappeared, the last topic remains. Lawmakers started the fight between the prosecution and the police, but they are too busy to handle their own internal crisis. The Prime Minister’s Office eventually stepped in to mediate, and it made a half-hearted attempt by presenting the compromise plan.
It is time for the prime minister to take a look at the matter once again. Instead of using his eyes as a law professional to simply look at the text of the legislation, he should look at the matter as the prime minister to see if law enforcement authorities’ powers really suit the spirit of our time.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sun-hee