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Justice Ministry seeks to overturn prosecutorial reform bill

The Justice Ministry is reportedly seeking to overturn a pending prosecutorial bill that would strip prosecutors of some powers and delegate them to the police.

South Korean Prosecution Service (Yonhap)
South Korean Prosecution Service (Yonhap)

Local media outlets reported Wednesday that a senior Justice Ministry official met with several lawmakers -- from both sides of aisle -- and spoke on restrengthening the prosecution, amid parliament deadlock over the reform bill.

The reform proposal repeals prosecutorial command over police during investigations and empowers police so that they would be able to initiate and close a case. It also mandates that interrogation records written by prosecutors not be admitted into evidence in the court.

The senior official reportedly told legislators the prosecution should continue to intervene in some key cases involving election, terrorism and disaster even if it relinquishes its investigative command over police.

The senior official reportedly contended prosecutors should be able to ask police to launch a follow-up investigation or hand over their case to prosecutors when necessary. He also argued the court should consider prosecutors’ interrogation records as evidence.

Legal experts remain divided over the Justice Ministry’s behind-the-door undertakings.

“Because we’ve seen problems with prosecutorial powers in the past, we’ve put forward the reform bill,” Lee Yung-hyeock, a professor of police science at Konkuk University, said in a telephone interview with The Korea Herald.

“It’s time for change. The bill is a check on the prosecutors’ power monopoly.”

Some experts, however, opine otherwise.

“Police by far outnumber prosecutors. Just think, for a second, if police could have power to start and close a case on their own and abuse that,” Ji Seong-woo, a constitutional law professor at Sungkyunkwan University, told The Korea Herald by telephone.

“Given the public are more likely to face a police officer rather than a prosecutor, who will then check on police’s abuse of their power?” Ji asked.

Other legal experts concurred, further pointing to the absence of any discussion on how to deal with a more powerful police force.

“Aside from the sheer number of police officers, the pending reform bill does not provide for a fallback if the police go power-drunk,” prosecutor-turned-attorney Chung Tae-won told The Korea Herald

The former senior prosecutor asserted the reform bill affects everyday lives of the public, yet the parliament is not invested in discussing the ramifications of a stronger, unchecked police over citizens.

“What’s worse here is, lawmakers, regardless of party affiliations, are hardly exchanging ideas on how to put a stronger police under checks,” Chung noted.

By Choi Si-young (