Where’s the reform?

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Where’s the reform?

An ad hoc National Assembly committee on judicial reform will end its activities next Monday. It holds its final general meeting Thursday to coordinate an outline on prosecutorial reform. But we can hardly expect an agreement. We have to question whether we can depend on the National Assembly to come up with a feasible plan to reform the prosecution.

The special committee on judicial reform was launched in April. It was to take up the mission of reforming the system and reorganizing the prosecution, which was a campaign promise made by both the ruling and opposition camps. But the bipartisan committee was ridden with one conflict after another. The ruling and opposition parties were poles apart on institutionalizing outside special prosecutors for high-profile political cases. The Saenuri Party suggested appointing a special prosecutor every time a sensitive political case emerged, while the Democratic Party insisted on institutionalizing a permanent special prosecution office. Both sides narrowed their differences on separating an anti-corruption oversight agency from the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

It is not the first time the Assembly failed to come up with legislation for prosecution reform. In 2010, during the Lee Myung-bak administration, the legislature mulled establishing a separate anti-corruption agency to investigate senior public officials. Prosecution reform flopped at the time because discussions dragged on without any conclusion.

The special committee on judicial reform was expected to reach a consensus because both parties promised to reform the state prosecution system. But a true outline for reform was neglected because politicians were too engrossed with wrangling over the prosecution’s investigation of the National Intelligence Service’s alleged online slander campaign during last year’s presidential election and controversy over comments about the sea border in the Yellow Sea during inter-Korean summit talks. It is unlikely that the two rival parties will exercise bipartisanship to reach an agreement on prosecutorial reform when it is handed to the higher Legislation and Judiciary Committee.

The public has demanded distancing the prosecution from political influence. President Park Geun-hye promised to overhaul the prosecution system so that prosecutors are no longer seen as lapdogs of politicians or associated with corruption. The president, legislature, judiciary and civilian community must muster the wisdom to come up with real reform.
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