A careful approach neededThe transition committee canceled a meeting with the ministry of justice scheduled for Thursday to brief president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol about what the ministry has done so far. The committee’s cancellation of the meeting basically stems from Justice Minister Park Beom-gye’s public opposition to Yoon’s campaign promises to end the justice minister’s command of the prosecution’s investigations, to allow the prosecution to draw up its budget on its own, and expand the scope of the prosecution’s investigation to help get the top law enforcement agency back on track.
After a statement by the justice minister, lawmakers from Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) were outraged over “the way the administration behaves with barely over 40 days left in its term.” That is one more area of conflict between the outgoing and incoming administrations on top of the relocation of the presidential office and President Moon Jae-in’s rushed filling of major government positions before he steps down on May 9.
Justice Minister Park based his opposition on the need for democratic control of the prosecution. In principle, his words are correct, as seen in the Prosecution Act, which allows a justice minister to “command and oversee a prosecutor general over concrete cases.” That’s a mechanism to restrain the prosecution from abusing its power. But we wonder if Park deserves to make such comments. A justice minister’s command over prosecutors’ probe has been used only once since 1949. But lawmaker-turned-justice ministers Choo Mi-ae and Park in the Moon administration already used it four times to target Yoon, former prosecutor general and now president-elect.
A bigger problem is that the DP used allegations against Yoon from ex-convicts to expel the prosecutor general from his post. The justice ministers would go too far, often to the extent of damaging the independence of the prosecution. Park must look back to find why Yoon wants to repeal the justice minister’s command over prosecutors.
Current Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo agreed to the president-elect’s position. After the government excessively pushed for a redistribution of investigation rights between the prosecution and the police only to help weaken the top law enforcement agency, the government’s investigation ability weakened conspicuously. Under such circumstances, the justice ministry wants to deprive the prosecution of its rights to investigate by giving them to the police and only allowing the prosecution to indict.
Justice ministers abused their command over prosecutors, but it can hardly justify a scrapping of the command, as the command itself can help restrain the prosecution from abusing its power. Yoon needs to listen to various voices from society and reach a prudent conclusion.