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Acquittals quadruple under liberal chief justice

The rate of acquittal, a source of conflict between the court and the prosecution, has quadrupled since Lee Yong-hoon took the bench as chief justice of the Supreme Court four years ago.

The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office said Sunday that the annual acquittal rate at first trial was at 0.18 percent in 2005 when Lee took office, but has risen every year, reaching 0.72 percent during the first six months of this year.

The figure was 0.2 percent in 2006, 0.26 percent in 2007, 0.30 percent in 2008, 0.37 percent in 2009 and 0.49 percent in 2010.

The number of people acquitted in the first trial also increased from 2,362 in 2006 to 5,420 last year.

The surge seems in acquittals to reflect his emphasis of evidence and witness testimony during hearings rather than on investigation records by the prosecution, which may have had a hard time proving charges in court.

In 2006, Lee, who is considered liberal, triggered criticism from prosecutors by saying on his visit to a lower court that the court should throw away prosecutors’ investigation records in order to hold a proper trial. In this stream, courts tended to dismiss prosecutors’ charges.

Lee also underlined the importance of minimal detention, thus increasing the number of arrest warrants rejected by the court each year. Court-issued arrest warrants declined in number from 64,294 in 2005 to 42,727 in 2009 to 32,516 in 2010.

Lee is scheduled to retire next month, turning his post over to former Supreme Court justice Yang Seung-tae, who is considered to be more conservative than Lee.

By Bae Hyun-jung (