Scrupulous reform neededAs a part of the bipartisan agreement on the government reorganization plan, the parties decided to establish a permanent independent prosecutor’s office and an extraordinary supervisory system. The idea is to ensure a close eye is being kept on the ethical integrity of public officials. It is the first meaningful step toward the prosecution reform that was promised during the presidential election last year. But such reform should not stop at the creation of an independent nongovernmental authority that will investigate controversial cases.
Under the agreement between the Saenuri and Democratic United parties, the powerful central investigation unit of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, which has overseen politically sensitive cases for the last 30 years, would be scrapped. Instead, a special prosecutor’s office and an extraordinary supervisory office would be introduced. At the same time, appointments of senior prosecutors would come under greater scrutiny by a review committee, and corrupt prosecutors would be restricted from opening private legal businesses. The legislature also agreed to set up a committee to study further reforms in the judiciary system.
The independent special prosecutor’s office will look into politically sensitive corruption scandals. Currently, a special prosecutor is appointed by the legislature when cases weren’t fully verified by a public prosecution investigation. But that system wasn’t very productive. It was employed 11 times since a 1999 investigation into political involvement in labor disputes and a bribery scandal, but the outcome was less impressive than the cost.
There are also worries that the creation of a new investigative authority will grant more power to the state. With investigative authority over public prosecutors, the two institutions could clash and compete excessively, resulting in the victimization of suspects. Its political neutrality could also be tested. All these risks and more should be thoroughly discussed before legalizing the system.
The legislature should not think about creating the institution first and fixing loopholes later, as it involves the criminal system, which directly affects the lives and rights of individuals. The public prosecution system has been criticized because it abused its power without an assurance of fairness and transparency. The tradition of dispatching an incumbent prosecutor to serve in the presidential office is one example of undermining the independence of public counsels. Prosecution reforms should be directed at practical and substantial results instead of serving as political bargaining chips between rival parties.