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Rights watchdog opposes U.S.-style plea bargaining

South Korea’s human rights watchdog said Friday it is against the government’s move to adopt a U.S.-style plea bargain system.

The proposed system would allow prosecutors to either drop an indictment or give a lenient sentence to a suspect in return for his admission of wrongdoing and testimony.

The decision by the National Human Rights Commission came after the Justice Ministry in December asked the commission to review and express its view on the ministry’s draft revision on the criminal justice system.

“Exemption from an indictment in the investigation stage is against the principles of ‘separation of the three powers,’” the watchdog said in a statement, referring to the government’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.

It also cited the possibility that victims’ human rights could be infringed upon if they are deprived of giving testimony in court hearings.

The commission’s move, however, would not be able to slam the brakes on the ministry’s plan to introduce the plea bargain system, because the commission’s opinion is not legally binding. The watchdog plans to officially inform the ministry of its objection to the system in coming weeks.

The ministry said it would submit the revision to the National Assembly for approval, though it gave no specific timeframe.

The ministry has insisted that the new system could encourage whistleblowers to help the authorities clamp down on organized crime and corruption cases.

“Under current circumstances where methods of crimes are getting more systematic, a plea bargaining system helps (investigators) more efficiently deal with major crimes,” said Justice Ministry spokesman Park Byung-rae

A lawyers’ association was not immediately available for comment.

Plea bargaining is widely used across the United States, where the vast majority of criminal cases are settled using the system. 

(Yonhap News)
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