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[Editorial] Arrest warrants

The court appears to be exercising greater caution in issuing arrest warrants now than before, making it more difficult for prosecutors to detain criminal suspects for an inquiry. That may be a source of frustration or even anger for prosecutors. But it should be welcomed from the viewpoint of human rights protection.

On Jan. 13, a Seoul district court turned down a request from a prosecutor for an arrest warrant against a former senior police officer involved in a bribery scandal. In rejecting the request, the court said the suspect was not considered to be a flight risk. Nor was he likely to destroy any evidence, the court said. For similar reasons, other courts turned down requests for arrest warrants against senior managers of business enterprises involved in separate slush fund scandals.

The prosecutors’ office is not hiding its discontent. Some prosecutors say it looks as if the courts were deliberately putting a stumbling block in front of pending criminal investigations by refusing to issue arrest warrants.

On one hand, there is room for justifying such a complaint, given that a judge in charge may exercise his own discretion to a great extent in determining whether or not to issue arrest warrants. Under Korean law, the court is authorized to issue arrest warrants when a criminal suspect is considered a flight risk or deemed capable of destroying evidence.

On the other hand, frequent rejections may be presented as evidence that prosecutors are seeking permission to detain criminal suspects, not because they are considered flight risks or deemed capable of destroying evidence, but because it would facilitate investigations.

Rights of individuals, be they criminal suspects or not, must be protected as prescribed by law. After all, isn’t it written in stone that everyone charged with a penal offense is presumed innocent until proven guilty?
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