A start for prosecutorial reform

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A start for prosecutorial reform

The Ministry of Justice has begun a procedure to recommend candidates for the prosecutor general’s post that has been vacant for over two months since Han Sang-dae stepped down in November in the wake of a series of corruption scandals and unprecedented internal division. Now the question is whether citizens’ persistent demands for a colossal revamp of the top law enforcement agency will be fully met in the nomination process.

The Justice Ministry announced it will receive recommendations for the post from individuals, corporate entities and other civic groups from today after organizing a committee in the ministry yesterday. The statement has raised controversy within political circles over the appropriateness of the candidate recommendation - in terms of timing and procedure. Opposition politicians are suspicious of incumbent justice minister’s right to pick one of the three candidates recommended by the committee to present to President Lee Myung-bak, because it could be part of a scheme to protect Lee from potential attacks after his retirement.

At the same time, however, we can hardly find fault with the argument that a prolongation of the vacancy of the post is not desirable. Park Sun-kyu, spokesman for President-elect Park Geun-hye, said, “As it takes about two months for the whole recommendation process to be completed, the new prosecutor general will be appointed around Feb. 25 when the new administration officially kicks off,” suggesting that the incoming government’s views, too, will be reflected in the process.

But some questions linger over whether the recommendation committee can come up with the right choices. The committee is doing the job for the first time since the prosecution law was revised in July 2011. The National Assembly’s special committee on judicial system reform at the time inserted a clause that requires the ministry to set up a committee to recommend candidates for the chief prosecutor in order to reinforce political independence and neutrality.

However, a presidential decree on the operation of the recommendation committee allows justice ministers to “recommend candidates who the minister believes fit for the post to the committee.” That left room for arbitrary interventions by justice ministers in the recommendation process. Lawmakers should mend such loopholes to guarantee fairness and transparency of the procedure. The Blue House and the Ministry of Justice should not thwart the prosecution reform by fully recognizing deepening concerns about the process. The next prosecutor general should have the will and capability to spearhead the internal reform of the prosecution. People will watch closely this time.

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