Enhancing transparency is keyCriminal justice systems should be modified in accordance with the changes of the time. But any revision should be fully thought through as it can affect life and liberty. With independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo announcing his 10-point platform on judiciary reform, the three leading presidential contenders all unveiled steps to overhaul the state prosecution system. Ahn suggested dismantling the powerful Central Investigation Unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office that handles high-profile political corruption cases and instead creating a new independent agency with investigative authority over senior public officials. He also proposed adopting a civilian jury system on indicting public officials on charges of corruption and misconduct.
Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the opposition Democratic United Party, also pledged to deprive the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s Central Investigation Unit of direct investigative power and establish a new independent entity to take up criminal inquiries on senior public officials. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party offered to create a special unit for oversight of conduct inquiries involving family members or close aides of the president and senior public officials.
The three candidates all agree on the need for sweeping changes in the prosecution system. Considering the endless suspicion over politically motivated investigations and doubtful results by the prosecution, there is no question that there is a need for reform. Changes should be made to ensure fairness and political neutrality.
We agree that the power of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s Central Investigation Unit should be curbed. The Supreme Court over the last five years overruled 24.1 percent of the cases handled by the central unit, suggesting how rash and unreasonable it has been in indictments. But we advise discretion in creating new investigative offices or institutionalizing a special prosecutor system. Establishing another investigative agency could lead to bureaucratic redundancy and a conflict of interest that could invite greater political abuse.
What is imperative is enhancing transparency of investigations while reducing excess or abuse in indictments. Civilian participation could play the part. Ahn’s idea to adopt an American-style jury system, comprised of civilians to review and decide on indicting a suspect, is worth consideration. We also need caution in prosecution reshuffling to reduce political interference and influence during transitional periods. We should use the momentum to examine loopholes and problems for the restoration of confidence in the enforcement of the law.