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Saturday, March 5, 2011
Half-baked reform won't cut it
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office (SPPO) on Feb. 23 said that the special investigation squads at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district public prosecutors offices will start partial electronic recording of interrogations of suspects from March 18. At present, public prosecutors are recording a process in which public prosecutors read aloud to a suspect their record of oral statements made by the suspect and the latter verifies the validity of the statements. The recordings are then submitted in criminal trials under the lay judge system.
The new decision covers such cases as bribery involving politicians, contract rigging for public works projects by major construction firms and large-scale tax evasion, as well as cases against which accusations have been filed by the Fair Trade Commission, the National Tax Administration Agency and the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission.
A public prosecutor will decide on his or her own discretion what part of the interrogation process to record. There is the possibility that more parts of the process will be recorded than is currently done for trials under the lay judge system. Interrogations will not be recorded if suspects do not wish them to be recorded or if it is deemed that recording would make it difficult to protect the suspects' privacy or hamper efforts to obtain truthful statements. These aspects of the reform reflect the resistance that the SPPO faced from prosecutors who insisted that recording interrogations would make suspects reluctant to speak the truth.
In December, the SPPO released a report that contained proposals to improve investigations. The report reinforced a widely held suspicion that current problems are structural in nature. Although the SPPO wishes to show it is making an effort, its reforms of the interrogation process recording are half-measures at best. The SPPO won't regain the people's trust until it makes it mandatory to record the entire interrogation process so it can be fully examined by defense lawyers and judges.