New fine system needs work

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New fine system needs work

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and Ministry of Justice are mulling a relative penalty system of imposing fines in proportion to violators’ wealth or business conditions. Justice Minister Cho Kuk proposed the idea ahead of a confirmation hearing earlier this month. He seems to believe that the current penalty system imposing a fixed amount of fines regardless of offenders’ wealth can be “cruel and crippling to common citizens, but its effect on wealthy people is minimal.” The belief also had been shared by President Moon Jae-in during his presidential campaign.

But questions are being raised about why the radical move must take place at a sensitive time when the prosecution’s investigation on Cho’s family is picking up. The idea behind the so-called day-fine is to have offenders of different socioeconomic status committing the same crime pay the same portion of their wealth instead of the same absolute amount of money. Under the system, a judge determines fines per day based on the convicted individual’s financial status and the severity of the crime. For instance, Germany has a range of fines from 1 to 30,000 euros ($33,125), France from 1 to 1,000 euros, Austria 4 to 5,000 euros, and Switzerland 30 to 3,000 Swiss francs ($3,000).

The ministry plans to gauge opinions from various corners to design a day-fine system that fits Korean conditions. The move is nothing new. It was proposed in 1986 and has been sought for since then. A similar bill is pending at the National Assembly. Critics point to the imbalance on the façade if people are fined differently for the same crime. It also raises questions about the effectiveness of the penalty aimed at de-incentivizing to prevent the repetition of wrongdoings if fines are too light. The sentencing could also be lengthened for accurate determination of the offender’s wealth. Salary earners whose pay is transparent could also be disadvantaged vis-a-vis the self-employed whose incomes are not as clear.

The court’s administrative office pointed out that if wealth becomes a major factor behind sentencing, it could go against the principle of criminal liability.

The party and government have paid too little thought on the long-mooted issue. The British revoked the relative fining system after the sentencing on one offender with 64 pounds and the other 640 pounds in a case involving mutual assault caused controversy. Korea should take a more discreet approach as society is already touchy and resentful over the issue of unfairness.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 19, Page 30
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