A certain mechanism should be established in order to avoid false accusations made by police and prosecution authorities - a proposal that has long been raised. However, an advisory body for the justice minister, a special panel of Legislative Council, reached ‘a conclusion’: to restrict an electronic recording of criminal interrogation to cases subject to lay judge trials. In addition, it has advised to strengthen power of investigative authorities; permission of wider use of eaves dropping and introduction of plea bargaining. Public debates are indispensable on the issue.
PUBLIC DEBATES ARE NECESSARY TO PREVENT FALSE CHARGES
The special panel on Criminal and Judiciary System for New Era of the Legislative Council, an advisory body of Minister of Justice, approved July 9 draft guidelines. The group has been studying how to record electronically the entire interrogations of criminal suspects (recording and filming). The draft will be examined by the Council in September for finalization to make an official decision. Subsequently, according to media reports, a relevant bill will be compiled to be presented to the Diet in 2015.
Can False Accusation be Eliminated?
The panel’s advice on electronic recording covers less than 3% of all of the criminal cases; ‘felonies’ to be tried in the lay judge system and such cases as prosecutors offices involve in special investigation. The rest of vast majority of cases will be left intact. The new guidelines may not mind prevention of ‘false accusation’, which provokes even resentment beyond disappointment.
Debates on transparency of interrogation authorities began with a profound review on false charges. They include the Shibushi case in which a suspect was proven innocent in 2007 in terms of violation of election laws in an occasion of prefectural assembly election held in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Himi case in which a suspect was charged with serial violence against women, the Ashikaga and Fukawa cases, in both of which the suspects were proven innocent in the murder cases. As a most recent case we know the Hakamada case.
The most decisive factor that urged discussions on the false charge issue was a case of Ms Muraki Atsuko, then-Chief of Bureau on Equal Employment, Children and Family Affairs of Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (currently she is administrative vice-minister), who had been indicted in 2009 by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office for a suspicion of fabricating an official document.
On September 10, 2010, Ms Muraki was found innocent by the court after testimonies of officials that revealed that ‘a prosecutor had forged a written record of oral statements’. These officials had ‘confessed’ involvement of Ms Muraki during the interrogations. As the prosecutors office did not appeal after the ruling, her innocence was confirmed. Immediately after the ruling it was disclosed that Chief Prosecutor had tampered with evidences, which led to resignation of Prosecutor General.
In response to this case a private advisory body to the Minister of Justice was established, which is called ‘a commission to review prosecution’. Discussions in the body were succeeded by the special panel of Legislative Council. It is composed of 26 judicial experts, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers and jurists. The panel had 30 times of discussion meetings to reach the conclusion.
Basis May Collapse
The panel has Ms Muraki, a movie director Suo Masayuki, who directed a film, ‘Soredemo Boku wa Yatte Inai’ (=I just Did not Do It) ? a story of a man falsely charged with groping a young lady on a crowded train, as members, who stressed and insisted on total transparency of interrogation. Unfortunately, however, discrepancy among the members was not dissolved. The discussions have ended with inserting a phrase into the ‘Tasks for the Future’ to the effect that a better solution is expected after legislation.
Concerning full recording of interrogation processes, a compromise of the panel members, the draft allows many exceptions; police investigators and public prosecutors are not required to record entire interrogations if an official regards that the suspect cannot make sufficient statement if he/she is recorded and filmed. The basis for total transparency may collapse, if prosecutors arbitrarily use exceptions to their advantage.
Eaves dropping of conversations and limitation of the right of silence of a defendant are specified in the draft. These issues cannot be overlooked. Legislation cannot be allowed if laws are strictly based on the draft.
September 9, 2014