Concerns are growing over police having too much power in the nation's criminal justice system, according to legal analysts Friday, as the government introduced a plan to shift more investigative powers to the police force from the prosecution and the intelligence agency.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the presidential office discussed reforms of the law enforcement authorities, Thursday. As a part of pushing ahead of the long overhaul plan to reform the country's institutions of power, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) will be renamed the "Foreign Security Intelligence Agency" to strictly block the NIS' involvement in domestic politics. Accordingly, the spy agency's counter-espionage operations will also be shut down.
|National Police Agency headquarters /Korea Times file|
The NIS' investigative authority will also be handed over to the police in a bid to reform the powerful agency, while critics say there will be no means to keep police power in check. In particular, controversy is expected over the wide range of activities carried out by the National Police Agency's intelligence unit, including potential political interference and domestic surveillance, but no precautions have been prepared to prevent these occurrences.
According to the reform plan, prosecutors will be allowed to investigate directly only six types of crimes related to corruption, the economy, public officials, elections, the defense industry and large-scale disasters. The relationship between the prosecution and police will be changed from a command structure to "investigation cooperative."
If opinions differ over important investigation procedures, prior consultation will be mandatory, and regular investigation councils will be held between the Supreme Prosecutors' Office and the National Police Agency.
Cheong Wa Dae has been entirely relying on the police intelligence unit after the NIS was banned from collecting domestic information. The DPK says it will limit the role of the police intelligence unit to "prevent and respond to the dangers of public well-being," but critics point out that concerns remain, such as political interference by the police, when the prosecution's power is limited.
"There is no need for the intelligence police to collect extensive information. The reason the government can't keep the intelligence police from collecting information which has nothing to do with national security is that it wants to keep their authority," said Oh Chang-ik, secretary-general of the Citizen's Solidarity for Human Rights.
"It will be much more appropriate to divert the workforce to areas that the public needs, such as living safety."
The prosecution reform to weaken its powers has been promoted consistently since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017. However, the DPK has faced fierce resistance whenever it tried to change the laws governing the prosecution, police and the NIS.