Undercutting a perceived enemyLaunching a committee for prosecutorial reforms last September, the justice minister at the time, Cho Kuk, named lawyer Kim Nam-joon as chairman. Kim, a member of the progressive Lawyers for Democratic Society, served as a policy advisor to the justice minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration in the early 2000s. In 2012, he worked as a member of a legal support group for presidential candidate Moon Jae-in. Other members of the committee included 16 left-leaning lawyers, including Kim Yong-min and Lee Tan-hee, who were elected lawmakers in the April 15 parliamentary elections. The committee stirred controversy due to its lopsided political background even before its launch.
Now, the committee is being criticized for its shocking recommendation to Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae that she deprive Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl of his right to command investigations. The advice makes us wonder if the liberal administration has any intention to protect the political independence of the top law enforcement body in the future.
We are skeptical. The committee recommended that the government abolish a prosecutor general’s right to command investigations and distribute it to six heads of High Prosecutors’ Offices in the country. At first glance, it appears to be a reasonable decision in terms of decentralization of the prosecution’s power. But it is a harmful recommendation, as it could be a ploy to prevent the prosecutor general, an irritant to the Moon administration, from digging up dirt about high-level officials in the government. If the recommendation is accepted, Yoon cannot orchestrate investigations as he wishes.
The committee claimed that its recommendation achieved fairness and transparency as it “allowed a prosecutor general to command six heads of the High Prosecutors’ Offices in written form." In fact, the recommendation enables a justice minister to command the six top prosecutors. Can giving unfettered powers to a justice minister in the name of prosecutorial reforms constitute a democratic reform?
The Office of the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs in the Blue House is bent on removing Prosecutor General Yoon, as seen in its requirement that he receive permission from the justice minister before launching investigations into explosive cases. If a special law enforcement agency, which will be launched soon, and the prosecution are both under the control of the Blue House, how is that different from a Ministry of Public Security controlled by the Communist Party of China? The committee’s recommendations need a revision of the Prosecution Act. We urge the National Assembly to reject that course.