Toward real prosecution reform

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Toward real prosecution reform

Prosecution reform has become a core agenda of our society since the December presidential election. It is about time to begin a full-fledged discussion on how to achieve it. We pay keen attention to the confirmation hearings on the nominee to head the top law enforcement agency because the direction of the revamp basically rests on what ideas and initiatives he has in mind.

Chae Dong-wook, appointee for prosecutor general of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, expressed some of his ideas about the reform in a written statement to lawmakers before attending the confirmation hearings today. He proposed that he would establish a department for special investigation to replace the outgoing central investigation unit at the top prosecutors’ office and reinforce the role of special prosecutors.

The move is aimed at launching a separate department which plans, commands and supports special investigations by local prosecutors’ offices, while expanding the function of special prosecutors for high-profile cases susceptible to controversy over fairness and neutrality. Regarding the introduction of the standing special prosecution system President Park Geun-hye promised during campaigns, he said that it would be better to appoint special prosecutors if necessary than establishing a permanent special prosecution system.

But Chae should carefully approach the issues of establishing a new department to replace the existing central investigation unit and expanding the special prosecutor system. A department which plans investigations and commands prosecutors in the front line can, of course, help minimize the power vacuum in a transitional period and ease the concentration of investigative powers away from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

But we cannot rule out the possibility that it will end up another central investigation unit, albeit without direct investigative authority. The special prosecutor system Chae proposed can overlap with the president’s standing special prosecution, which can reignite the controversies over political abuse. But appointment of special prosecutors when necessary - as Chae proposed - would be a realistic solution to dispel concerns about redundancy and cut costs and manpower.

Despite troubles the prosecution has in law enforcement, it should not pursue vested rights. It must also take concrete actions to prevent power abuse and secure political independence. There are many citizens who still harbor suspicions on their reform drive. They must meet people’s rising expectations.
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