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Civic Committee to Help Decide Indictments on Major Cases

Civic Committee to Help Decide Indictments on Major Cases

Posted June. 12, 2010 08:27,   


Each district public prosecutors’ office nationwide will set up a “prosecution-civic committee” comprising nine citizens to deliberate on major cases in deciding indictment.

The introduction of a U.S.-style grand jury system, which citizens participate in deciding indictment for major corruption cases involving high-ranking officials, will also be sought.

Such moves aim to break prosecutors’ monopoly on the power to indict, which has been in effect since the criminal code was enacted in 1954.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul announced Friday a prosecutorial reform plan including these measures after a video conference with prosecutors nationwide.

Prior to the conference, Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu issued a public apology, saying, “I apologize for failing to meet public expectations and causing trouble,” adding, “We will break from past practices and reform ourselves.”

○ Citizens to help decide indictment for major cases

The key to the reform plan is the immediate operation of a prosecution-civic committee if the nine members are filled. According to the plan, prosecutors can ask such a committee to deliberate corruption cases involving high-ranking officials and politicians; large-scale financial and economic crimes; and high-profile cases or those prosecutors believe require committee deliberation before deciding indictment.

Committees can suggest their own opinions and prosecutors should respect them.

The legislation of a jury system for indictment will also be sought to make committee rulings legally binding. For the system to take root, prosecutors say a trial by jury system in which jurors have the right to deliver a verdict should be adopted at the same time.

This means a full-fledged introduction of the U.S. and British-style trial by jury system to Korea based on continental law.

Critics say, however, that the establishment of the committee will have no impact on breaking prosecutors’ monopoly on the power to indict.

A judge in Seoul said, “How can the decisions of the committee, which is set up inside the prosecutorial system, be neutral? Committee members will only hear from the prosecutors in charge of the given case,” adding, “The committee operation system is also problematic since a committee will operate only when prosecutors find their deliberation necessary.”

The measure to align an indictment jury system with a trial by jury system could also lead to disputes over constitutionality. Unlike in the U.S., where courts have the right to hold trial, Korea gives that right to judges, not courts. So for jury decisions to be legally binding, the Constitution needs revision.

○ Punishment for prosecutors who take bribes

The reform plan also includes measures to allow citizens to participate in self-inspections of prosecutors. An inspection committee will have just one prosecutor and the remaining committee members will come from outside of the prosecution.

The inspection department at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office will be upgraded to the inspection division under the direct control of the prosecutor general. An external figure will head the division, inspection personnel will be doubled, and branches will be installed at five district public prosecutors’ offices nationwide.

The method of inspection will also be changed from a post-inspection based on petitions and reports to one that inspects frequently, including secret checks on prosecutors and investigators.

Crimes committed by prosecutors will be handled by independent prosecutors appointed by the prosecutor general at the request of the inspection committee. Independent prosecutors will make decisions on investigation and indictment.

The reform plan also seeks to break the prosecution`s relationship with a council on crime prevention, crack down on bribery, and eliminate the indecent drinking culture among prosecutors.