The Korea Herald


Constitutional Court opens way for launch of police bureau

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Dec. 22, 2022 - 17:43

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Police officers stand in front of a police line at a mourning altar for Itaewon crown crush victims in Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap) Police officers stand in front of a police line at a mourning altar for Itaewon crown crush victims in Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled in favor of the launch of the police bureau, backing the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s moves to regain control of the police.

As soon as Yoon took office, he moved to create the unit so the police would fall under government control, after the police took over most of the right to investigate by Yoon’s predecessor and the opposition-led Assembly.

The National Police Commission filed the complaint on Sept. 30. The litigation was one of the last-ditch efforts by opponents to keep the police bureau at bay by taking legal actions.

A unanimous ruling by the nine-member Constitutional Court indicated that the National Police Commission -- a top policymaking body superior to the National Police Agency before the launch of the police bureau -- is not eligible to lodge complaints for the "dispute in competence," which in Korea could be adjudicated by the Constitutional Court.

"The NPC was established based on a law proposed by the parliament, so does its existence and the extent of powers and responsibilities," read the ruling. There were no hearing proceedings.

"The NPC cannot be construed as a state body on the foundation of the Constitution. ... Those eligible to file for a dispute in competence shall be limited to those that were established on the basis of the Constitution, and the NPC does not qualify for an entity that can file for the complaint."

The Interior Ministry welcomed the court ruling, stressing the legitimacy of the police bureau under the presidential decrees, and of a new rule for the Interior Minstry to command the police officers under the Government Organization Act.

"(The Interior Ministry) hereby calls for the NPC's responsible actions, and expect the unnecessary controversies over the new police bureau and the ministry's rule of command to die down," the ministry said in a statement.

The ruling came as the Constitutional Court dismissed the complaints by the NPC against Interior Minister Lee Sang-min. The NPC claimed that Lee's attempt to control the chief of the National Policy Agency is against the Constitution, and that the state decision without a review or consent by the commission must be nullified.

Lee has argued that the government decision to set up the rule for command does not require a review or approval by the NPC.

The police reshuffle plan, which came into effect on Aug. 2, acknowledges the interior minister’s authority -- via the controversial police bureau -- to approve the policymaking process of the police and be informed of the policy direction and budget, as well as the power of senior-level appointments in the police agency.

Also under the reshuffle, the 16-member police bureau, under the Ministry of Interior and Safety, effectively took the place of the seven-member advisory panel NPC.

Such a police reshuffle came after the law was revised on May 3 to transfer the prosecution's remaining investigative power to the police.

Controversies over the new police bureau had also persisted in parliament. The size of the budget for the new police bureau was one of the points of bipartisan contention over the 2023 national budget plan. But lawmakers on Thursday announced a provisional bipartisan agreement on the budget bill.

This came shortly after National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo said he would pass the budget bill regardless of whether the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea reached a compromise.