Justice minister comes face to face with the long arm of the law
Justice Minister Park Beom-kye, who was indicted for partaking in a violent scuffle at the National Assembly in April 2019 over the fast-tracking of legislation, appeared in court as a defendant on Wednesday.
Park, who was a lawmaker with the Democratic Party (DP) at the time of the scuffle, was indicted by prosecutors last year for injuring opposition lawmakers and other party officials before being appointed Minister of Justice in January.
Park is the first incumbent justice minister to appear in court as a criminal defendant.
Park was summoned along with current and former DP lawmakers Kim Byung-wook, Park Joo-min, Lee Jong-gul and Pyo Chang-won, who are also facing criminal prosecution according to the Punishment of Violences, Etc. Act for their participation in the physical battle in the legislature.
At the time, legislators from the DP and three smaller parties –– the Bareunmirae Party, Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP) and Justice Party –– formed an alliance to fast-track the passage of four contentious bills aimed at creating an independent investigative agency dedicated to investigating corruption by senior public servants, effectively redistributing investigative powers between the police and the prosecution and revising the Criminal Procedure Act.
After they decided to begin deliberations on the bills at the special committees on political and judicial reforms, opposition lawmakers from the Liberty Korea Party (or LKP, the predecessor of the current opposition People Power Party) physically barricaded the doors to meeting rooms in the legislature that evening.
The brawls intensified around 2:15 a.m., as DP lawmakers attempted to forcibly open the meeting room doors to start the fast-track process, while LKP lawmakers tried to stop them. In the process, some National Assembly workers and aides were injured, while two LKP lawmakers collapsed and were sent to hospitals.
On the way to the hearing at the Seoul Southern District Court, Park expressed embarrassment over the fight.
“As the first sitting justice minister to face a criminal trial, I am ashamed that I am going to be tried at the very same court where I was first appointed a judge.”
However, Park also signaled he believed in the righteousness of his cause at the time.
“I hope that this trial will shed new light on the significance of prosecutorial reform and the National Assembly Advancement Act,” he said, referring to a law passed in 2012 regarding the country’s lawmaking process.
The revisions added checks against the majority party, to prevent it from unilaterally passing controversial legislation using its majority and to reduce the number of violent incidents in the legislature.
“I will appeal to the court to consider whether my indictment is truly just,” he added.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]