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[Editorial] Prosecution-police conflict

June 19, 2011 - 18:34 By 윤정순
The prosecution and the police are again clashing over the right to investigate crimes. The old conflict between the two law-enforcement agencies has been reignited as a parliamentary special committee on judicial reform is set to revise the laws defining their relationship.

At the heart of the dispute is a clause in the Criminal Procedure Act requiring police officers to investigate crimes under the instruction of a public prosecutor. Under this clause, police officers are officially not allowed to initiate investigations without approval from a prosecutor.

But the clause does not correspond to reality. In many cases, police officers actually start investigations without the go-ahead from a prosecutor. The parliamentary committee plans to rewrite the clause to reflect this.

The committee says while the change empowers the police to initiate investigations independent of the prosecution, it does not in any way undermine prosecutors’ authority to supervise and direct police officers in the investigation of crimes.

The police welcome this change as they have long demanded that their right to launch investigations be expressly stipulated in the act.

However, prosecutors are opposed to the proposed revision. They do acknowledge that police officers do not need their approval when starting investigations into petty crimes. Nevertheless, they argue that police investigators should not be allowed to launch probes into politically sensitive cases without prior consent from a prosecutor.

The prosecutors make a valid point. So it is reasonable to require the police to investigate sensitive cases, such as election law breaches and National Security Law violations, under the instruction of a prosecutor, while allowing them to start investigations into other crimes on their own.

Another issue raised by the parliamentary committee concerns a clause in the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act requiring police officers to “obey any official order issued by the competent public prosecutor in a criminal investigation.”

The committee plans to abolish this clause as it seeks to rebalance the relationship between the prosecution and the police, taking into account the progress that the police have achieved in modernizing its organization. We find the committee’s move sensible.

As we observe the confrontation between the two powerful agencies, we get the impression that prosecutors are too preoccupied with protecting their existing rights. But insisting on the status quo is refusing to recognize the improvements made in the investigative capabilities of the police. So they are advised to accept the parliamentary committee’s reform measures.

The police, for their part, should redouble their efforts to narrow the trust deficit they still suffer from. For instance, police officers need to be more committed to respecting the human rights of each suspect. Regarding their relations with prosecutors, police officers should not attempt to undermine prosecutors’ authority to supervise and direct them.