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Attorney General Should Sit Through His Term

Posted January. 08, 2003 23:00,   


Kim Won-gee, advisor of Millennium Democratic Party and one of the top aids to President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, popped up a controversial comment on Tuesday, arousing a heated debate over the political neutrality of the prosecution. He said, "The incumbent Attorney General should be verified of his confidence again."

In response to Kim`s remarks, the majority of prosecutors snapped and accused, "Politicians are trying to dominate us."

Legal scholars and attorneys opine that, without occurrence of exceptional circumstances, it is desirable to keep the incumbent Attorney General even after the new administration takes office.

▽ Strong opposition from prosecutors = The majority of prosecutors argue that they do not see any reason for having the current Attorney General resign just due to inauguration of a new administration. They believe that Attorney General should remain in office for his full term of 2 years.

One senior prosecutor at the Office of Attorney General criticized, "An Attorney General is to serve two years. It is to prevent politicians from artificially manipulating the Attorney General despite change of administrations. Now, the incoming administration is trying to breach the principle. They seem to wield influence over the prosecution. Is there any other reason for that?"

One prosecutor with the Seoul District Prosecutors` Office said, "If the Attorney General does not resign, some might think he just wants to hold on to his position. Nonetheless, for the independence of our organization, he should not step down."

In addition, prosecutors with the Seoul High Public Prosecutors` Office joined the criticism and said, "Kim would not have talked about this without prior consulting with Mr. Roh. If that should be true, Mr, Roh would not be different from other presidents. He would also try to wield influence over prosecutors. How could we expect a real reform from him?"

▽ Response of legal scholars and attorneys = The collective opinion of legal scholars and attorneys does not differ much from that of prosecutors.

Professor of law Park Sang-gee at Yensei University said, "The law does not provide any grounds for testing confidence of the Attorney General. It is in direct contradiction to the neutrality of the prosecution."

Park added, "Contrary to the initial intention, the two-year term system has not played any role in keeping the prosecution politically neutral. But it is totally another matter to disrespect the system."

Attorney Hah Chong-woo also opined, "If the new President tests the confidence of the incumbent Attorney General, it is likely to damage the neutrality of the whole prosecution."

A considerable number of lawyers say that if the new administration really wants to change the Attorney General, it should change the relevant law first.

▽ Background for introduction of the term system and reality = The Prosecutors` Office Act was revised on December 31, 1988, adding provisions providing the two-year term and setting up the term limit on the Attorney General. For the past 14 years, however, only 4 Attorneys General out of ten have sit through their terms. Kim Young-sam administration, which took office in March of 1993, promoted then incumbent Attorney General Kim Doo-hee to Justice Minster, making him unable to sit through. Again in 1999, Kim Dae Jung administration promoted then Attorney General Kim Tae-jung to Justice Minister, cutting short Kim`s term despite the administration`s promise upon inauguration not to change the Attorney General.

Wi-Yong Jung viyonz@donga.com