Unequal before the law“All citizens are equal before the law,” says Article 11 of our Constitution. A country cannot be a law-abiding equal society if a lawyer, a former senior public official or someone who has power walks away without punishment after breaking the law. It would be a hierarchical society that bestows special rights to a certain class.
The case of Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu raises serious concerns about our society’s regressive custom. Lee assaulted a cab driver while intoxicated, but was not detained by the police. In May, the police filed an arrest warrant for a man in his 30s for verbally offending and throwing coins at a taxi driver. Although an arrest warrant was denied, the man was nevertheless arrested after his first trial. The man went to prison for insulting and throwing coins, although he had not hurt the driver. The man and the vice minister were not “equal before the law.”
In the vice minister’s case, police claimed the taxi had arrived at the destination and was not on the move, and therefore could not be applied with the aggravated punishment law. Also, the driver decided not to press charges, the police say, which led to the case being dropped But under the law, a car at standstill before the passenger exits is deemed on the move. It cannot be a fair country if the law is selectively applied, depending on the person.
The police questioned the driver, but did not summon Lee who was then a lawyer after serving as senior official at the Justice Ministry. As he was not indicted, the case was not reported to the prosecution. If anyone has dealt with the police, they would know such privileges are unimaginable for common citizens.
Whether the police officer in charge acted alone or if he had received an order from above or outside, the police should be thoroughly investigated. The prosecution which took up the case upon a complaint from a civic group must find out if the case was intentionally covered up.
If the prosecution also treats the case lightly, the people will lose trust in the equality of the law. The case fell under the jurisdiction of Lee Seong-yun, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, who is very close to the government. Prosecutors must stay loyal to the law, not to the sitting power.