A self-serving bill

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A self-serving bill

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is expected to submit a bill as early as this week to establish a new law enforcement agency on top of the just-launched Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). The DP’s rush to set up another agency targeting six types of crimes, including corruption, in the face of strong opposition from the prosecution sounds alarms on the fair exercise of investigative rights among our law enforcement agencies.

The DP is poised to take away the authority to investigate those six types of crimes from the prosecution after holding a special committee meeting on prosecution reforms on Thursday. After the government’s recent redistribution of investigative rights, the only kinds of crimes the prosecution could investigate were those six types. After the DP’s pushing of the bill, Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl criticized it for trying to grant impunity to powerful figures in political, economic and social fields by depriving the prosecution of its right to look into their crimes. That represents a “retreat of democracy and constitutes a destruction of our Constitutional spirit,” said the top prosecutor.

Legal experts are expressing deep concerns about the shaking of the very foundations of our criminal justice system if this separate law enforcement agency is launched. They are coming together in one voice to warn about the repercussions of this major change.

The DP’s push to set up a separate law enforcement agency sharply contrasts with what occurs in major advanced countries. Despite the intrinsic difference between continental and common law legal systems, the DP is eager to borrow — and mix — incompatible elements from each system. That will cause serious problems in the pursuit of justice in Korea.

In Germany and Japan, which follow the continental law system, for instance, their government allows a special department within the prosecution to directly exercise its rights to investigate grave crimes. In the United States and the UK, which follow the common law system, the police mostly lead investigations thanks to the strength of their autonomous police. But after the British police showed limits in their investigation capability, the government established the prosecution in 1985 and set up the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), a non-ministerial government department, in 1987. (The SFO has the rights to both investigate and indict.) Given that, the DP’s attempt to rid the prosecution of its investigative rights goes against the tide.

As a result of the Moon Jae-in administration’s redistribution of investigative rights between the prosecution and the police, the National Investigation Headquarters — which has no limits in the scope of investigation — is already established. Creating another law enforcement agency on top of that is simply redundant. If the government deprives the prosecution of its investigative rights, that can hardly help achieve criminal justice in this country. Even Kim Jin-wook, the first head of the CIO, worried about difficulties in indictments if the government takes away the rights to investigate from the prosecution. The government must pay heed to Kim’s concern. Only the government will benefit from the DP’s railroading of this bill.
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