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[Op-Ed] Weekend Arrest Warrant Application

Posted June. 09, 2009 07:18,   


A suspect has the right to a prompt trial according to Clause 3, Article 27 of the Constitution. To prevent legal instability from being inflicted on the suspect, a court must not only make prompt progress in an investigation but also make a speedy decision on an arrest warrant and indictment. Once a warrant application is filed, judges should question the suspect “without delay” and decide whether to arrest him “with promptness.” This is why district and branch courts nationwide have judges in charge of arrest warrants even at night and on weekends, when crimes are more likely to occur than on days and weekdays. Since 2007, the Seoul Central District Court has appointed experienced and high-ranking judges to take care of arrest warrant applications.

The Yeongdong Branch Court of the Cheongju District Court and prosecutors are divided over arrest warrants. Prosecutors say Yeongdong court head Kim Myeong-han encouraged judges to reject all arrest warrant applications on weekends so that they could go home to Seoul. In a luncheon with lawyers and prosecutors in April, Kim sparked controversy by saying, “There are judges who seem to issue arrest warrants out of personal compassion.” On the other hand, he told lawyers to commit to any case taken over the weekend since all warrant applications are bound to be rejected in those periods. If he told the same to the Yeongdong court as he reportedly did, it is beyond absurd.

The Yeongdong court has a different story. It has two independent judges in charge of warrant applications. While criticizing prosecutors for making undue claims, the court said it simply wanted to know whether warrant applications could be avoided on weekends since its judges can only go home to Seoul every two weeks. Despite their hard work, there seems to be a problem with a culture putting personal convenience over official duty. Whether a suspect arrested in an emergency round-up should be indicted must be decided within 48 hours, and if no judge is available on weekends, the delay in warrant application could violate the suspect’s rights.

Many judges sought a high level of ethical discipline when demanding the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul over his alleged trial intervention. Shin reportedly violated the balance between the independence of judges and the rights of judicial administration. The Yeongdong court, however, not only deviated from the scope of duty defined by its judicial administration rights but also intervened in trials. Judges have actively advocated trial and judicial independence and championed trials “based on the Constitution, law and conscience.” It is regrettable how many of their wishes remain unrealized.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)