Shaking foundation of our criminal law system

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Shaking foundation of our criminal law system

The chief prosecutor vowed to stake his title and do his utmost to fight the bill sought by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) proposing to strip the prosecution of all its investigative powers and leave it with only indictment authority. “If the prosecution loses its investigative function, there is no meaning for the prosecutor general,” said Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo during a meeting of heads of district prosecutors’ offices across the country on Monday. The remark from the top prosecutor, who had been appointed by President Moon Jae-in after Yoon Suk-yeol quit last year, comes amid statements from senior officials of the Justice Ministry as well as the prosecution all decrying the bill which could shake the very foundation of Korea’s criminal law system.

The collective protest owes much to the rashness in the government’s push for the bill aimed at depriving prosecutors of their rights to investigate. The prosecution already lost substantial investigative power to the police and the new agency devoted to investigating crimes of senior government employees. An additional makeover would complicate the entire criminal investigative process and overload police work to cause delay and confusion. Law enforcement responses will weaken and cause distress to the people.

There has been no guideline or principle behind the latest push. The state criminal law system applies to all people and should be statutory. It must ensure neutrality and independence of the law enforcement authorities.

But much of the authority has been watered down. The government has interfered in the investigations on the early shutdown of a Wolsong reactor, Ulsan election meddling, and other cases involving figures or policies of the sitting power. Now the DP is pushing the bill before President Moon Jae-in’s term ends on May 9 so that prosecutor general-turned-president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol cannot use his influence for a political purpose after taking office. Shaking the system based on such presumptions is preposterous.

Rep. Hwang Woon-ha, a hard-line lawmaker pushing for the bill, claimed that the remaining prosecutorial investigative power in six areas “will not go to the police but disappear.” We wonder if his remarks suggest the prosecutorial reform design under the current ruling power aims to block investigation on their wrongdoings, not to contain excesses of mighty prosecutorial authority. The DP is going ahead with the bill without discussing where the investigative powers will go once they leave the prosecution.

Even after the bill passes the DP-dominant legislature, the rivaling parities will likely wage court battles over the legality and justice of the move. People would become victimized by the confusion. They will never tolerate political abuse of investigation power.
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