Prosecution Reform in South Korea: Mixing the Continental and Anglo-American Styles

31 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2021 Last revised: 9 Sep 2023

See all articles by Neil Chisholm

Neil Chisholm

International Center for Legal Studies

Date Written: September 7, 2023


Prosecutorial independence is a major political issue in South Korea. Ending prosecutorial politicization has been debated for decades and is understood as crucial for enhancing the quality of democracy. President Moon Jae-In introduced several reforms, and his successor, President Yoon Seok-Yeol has dealt with their implementation. This paper explains Korea’s prosecutorial reform discourse and the new reforms. In general, reformists have argued that the centralized, bureaucratic nature of Korea’s prosecution system facilitates its top-down politicization. To remedy this, they have advocated for adopting measures to decentralize and even democratize the Prosecutors’ Office. From a comparative perspective, prosecution reform involves a clash of Continental European versus Anglo-American styles of prosecutorial organization. Reformers, disenchanted with the Continental tradition, have challenged the legitimacy of their German-Japanese derived system and looked to the common law tradition for solutions to prosecutorial independence problems. While not naïve about the drawbacks of aspects of Anglo-American prosecutorial organization, they have welcomed ideas on decentralizing and democratizing the prosecution. That reformers are the ideological descendants of the democratization movement has encouraged such thinking, because reformers consider the democratization of institutions to be desirable. Thus, an unspoken dilemma of Korea’s prosecutorial reform saga has been: should reforms *improve* bureaucratic accountability or *introduce* democratic accountability?

This paper explains Korea’s prosecution reforms relating to personnel management, investigations, and charging authority. It analyzes competing bureaucratizing and democratizing ideas, including new regulations, proposals for prosecutor elections, special prosecutors, the establishment of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, the expansion of independent police investigative powers, and the adoption of the grand jury. Korea's reforms are still relatively new and in progress, and it is too early to evaluate their success or failure.

Overall, this paper argues that Korea's reform experience highlights the differences between the Anglo-American and Continental European styles of prosecutorial independence styles and shows how they can mix.

This excerpt is taken from a working paper on prosecutorial independence in South Korea.

Keywords: prosecutors, prosecutorial independence, prosecution reform, criminal justice reform, prosecutor elections, grand jury, police powers, South Korea, judicial reform, democratic consolidation, prosecutorial organization, Korea CIO, Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials

Suggested Citation

Chisholm, Neil, Prosecution Reform in South Korea: Mixing the Continental and Anglo-American Styles (September 7, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Neil Chisholm (Contact Author)

International Center for Legal Studies ( email )

University of London

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