Prosecutor, reform thyself!

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Prosecutor, reform thyself!

Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il has once again expressed opposition to reforms aimed at rearranging investigative rights between the prosecution and the police. Controversial bills were put on a “fast track” by the National Assembly last month to help weaken the massive power of the prosecution. After Justice Minister Park Sang-ki sent senior prosecutors an email notifying them of his will to reflect concerns from the prosecution, Moon said, “If prosecutors follow his guidelines, they must keep their mouth shut.” His remarks succinctly suggest the growing frustration among prosecutors as a result of the government’s plan to weaken the prosecution’s power.

In a press briefing, Moon attacked the bills for violating the democratic principles of the criminal justice system and leaving a loophole in protections of the basic rights of suspects. He also took a stand against the idea of stripping the prosecution of its rights to command the police in investigations. The government must not allow the police to wrap up investigations on their own, he said.

One can hardly find fault with his arguments given the need for checks and balances to help safeguard the basic rights of defendants. Yet what the prosecution did in the past is also pertinent: it abused or misused its power to command the police. The prosecution must show how democratically — and effectively — they would keep the police and themselves in check in the future.

Moon expressed a willingness to reduce the number of cases the prosecution investigates on its own. He also underscored his past efforts to rein in the prosecution’s immense power and protect the rights of suspects — as seen in the establishment of a human rights division in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office — since taking office in 2017. But that has not put the brakes on the huge power of the prosecution. Even if a bill aimed at setting up a special law enforcement body to punish high-level government officials is passed, it will likely end up intensifying the competition for investigations and indictments between the prosecution and the police.

Moon expressed regrets for a lack of neutrality in dealing with politically sensitive cases and a dearth of compassion for people falsely charged. But if he really wants to demonstrate sincerity, he must come up with a reform plan on par with the proposed separation of the rights to investigate and indict. At the same time, the prosecution must avoid criticism that it is submissive to the powers that be.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30
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