[Editorial] Prudence needed for in-person deliberation

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[Editorial] Prudence needed for in-person deliberation

The prosecution strongly opposes a proposed revision of the rules on criminal procedure being pushed by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) in the judiciary. The question is how a court should weigh a request from prosecutors for a search and seizure warrant. Currently, a court determines whether to issue the warrant based on written examination. But if the OCA’s plan goes through, a judge can summon related people to the court to decide whether to issue a search and seizure warrant. The Supreme Court plans to listen to various opinions about the revision through March 14 and implement revised rules from June. As the rules on criminal procedure are not law, it does not have to go through the legislature.

Our Constitution mandates an investigative authority to receive a warrant from courts to arrest and detain a suspect or to search and seize evidence from a suspect in order to prevent possible infringement on the rights of suspects. Currently, a detention warrant issuance should be preceded by a suspect’s face-to-face meeting with a judge to protect a suspect’s right of defense. However, for a court to issue a search and seizure warrant, such in-person meetings are not required.

The prosecution vehemently opposes such face-to-face deliberation for a search and seizure warrant from court, citing the need for secrecy in investigations. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office attacked the court move for “seriously hurting secrecy” as it can help suspects destroy evidence. “It will cause a serious problem in dealing with crimes swiftly and strictly,” said the top law enforcement office. The OCA rebutted it, saying the in-person meeting will be limited to few cases. If so, the standards for in-person deliberation should be clear.

Preventing the abuse of a search and seizure warrant and maintaining secrecy in investigations are both important. Therefore, if a search and seizure can harm a suspect’s basic rights, issuing the warrant should be minimized. But at the same time, the in-person meeting must not help a suspect destroy or hide evidence. The OCA said it will restrict in-person deliberation to investigators, informants and a few others. Still, we cannot rule out the possibility of investigation information being leaked to stakeholders. If the deliberation period is extended by in-person meetings, that could give suspects more time to destroy critical evidence.

We hope the prosecution and the court to find an appropriate balance along with effort to find social consensus. The court must take a prudent approach to tackling the issue after carefully listening to opponents. This is not an issue for the bench to push it after fixing a deadline in advance.
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