The Korea Herald


Moon Jae-in signs controversial prosecution bills into law

Prosecution left with power to investigate just two types of crimes

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : May 3, 2022 - 16:18

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President Moon Jae-in oversees the last Cabinet meeting of his five-year term at the presidential office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) President Moon Jae-in oversees the last Cabinet meeting of his five-year term at the presidential office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday promulgated the two controversial bills on prosecution reform despite fierce opposition from the public and related sectors, seeing further progress on his vow to overhaul the law enforcement agency.

At the last Cabinet meeting of his five-year term held 2 p.m. Tuesday, Moon officially signed the two prosecution reform bills that passed the final vote at the National Assembly, completing the Democratic Party of Korea’s push to strip most of the remaining investigative powers from the prosecution.

The Cabinet meeting was originally scheduled for 10 a.m. but was pushed back to later hour to wait until the parliament passes the remaining prosecution reform bill at a plenary session Tuesday morning.

The Democratic Party, controlling 168 out of 293 occupied seats at the National Assembly, railroaded the remaining bill on prosecution reform through the final vote at the plenary session held 10 a.m. Tuesday. Seven seats are empty for the time being as some legislators resigned to run for local elections.

Legislators with the conservative People Power Party attended the session but boycotted the vote in protest of the unilateral push from the Democratic Party.

Earlier Saturday, the Democratic Party unilaterally passed another bill on prosecution reform despite fierce opposition from the People Power Party and members of the judiciary, law enforcement and civic groups.

The final voting procedure came after the Democratic Party shut down People Power Party’s filibuster last week and voted for an early end to April’s provisional assembly, which was originally slated to close on May 4.

A filibuster cannot be repeated on the same bill, and the bill that was subject to filibuster can be put to a vote three days after the debate strategy comes to an end.

The two bills altogether work to limit the investigative powers of the prosecution long accused of abusing its power and authority for political purposes.

The proposed revisions to the Criminal Procedure Act were aimed at limiting the scope of the prosecution’s power to conduct supplementary investigations, and the other bill was proposing changes to the Prosecutors’ Office Act that would limit the prosecution to investigate only two types from crimes from the current six prior to removing the power completely.

The Democratic Party successfully met its goal to have both bills presented before Moon for promulgation at his final Cabinet meeting.

The two parties earlier reached a compromise and negotiated on details of the two bills, but the People Power Party backed out of the deal in concern of negative public sentiment toward the agreement and its potential to threaten the party’s chances for victory in the upcoming local elections.

The conservative party instead suggested running a national referendum and reflect the people’s wishes, but the Democratic Party ignored the calls, saying the idea goes against the system of checks and balances assured in a democratic society.

Running low on options to block the bills from enactment, the People Power Party has been leading a protest outside the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae by displaying signs and shouting chants to ask Moon to veto the bills.

But Moon was already widely expected to sign the bills into law, as he endorsed the bipartisan compromise and emphasized the need to bring reforms to the prosecution and bring better checks and balances to the criminal justice system.

Since starting his term in 2017, Moon and the Democratic Party has gradually curtailed the investigative powers of the prosecution and installed the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials to have the agency take over high-profile corruption cases from the prosecution.

But Moon and his party also faced criticism of essentially taming the prosecution so that it cannot launch investigations into those in power. And members of the prosecution, opposition parties and others have fiercely opposed the move over the past five years.

Opposition to the move gave birth to the political career of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who rose to fame after ordering an investigation on former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family members while Cho was in office when Yoon served as the chief of the prosecution under the Moon administration.

The bills that Moon promulgated serves as a symbolic conclusion to the Moon administration’s prosecution reform drive.

The prosecution is still determined to fight against the controversial bills from official enactment, with the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office warning to file complaints and competence disputes with the Constitutional Court if the two bills pass the final voting stage.

A competence dispute, filed when two or more government agencies are in conflict over their authorities and jurisdictions, lets the Constitutional Court rule on the boundaries. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has set up a task force to prepare for the procedure once the two bills pass.

If Han Dong-hoon, a key aide to Yoon, is successfully appointed as the new minister of justice, Han could be the one filing the complaint in place of the prosecution.