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Monday, April 11, 2011
Insufficient evidence of reform
A 15-member advisory panel to Justice Minister Satsuki Eda on March 31 prepared a set of proposals for reform of the prosecution system. Unfortunately, the panel, which includes four lawyers, two former judges, two former public prosecutors and two academics, failed to come up with strong-enough measures to prevent the filing of false charges against suspects.
Important issues were put off for discussion by another forum to be set up in the future.
The panel was set up after Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health ministry official, was acquitted last September of a charge of ordering fabrication of an official document to make an organization for disabled people eligible for a postal service discount. In the trial, the Osaka District Court quashed core evidence against her — oral statements by witnesses — saying it was produced as a result of prosecutors' leading questions and by coercion. It also surfaced that a prosecutor had tampered with an important piece of evidence, a floppy disk.
In the panel, two opposing groups clashed over a call for electronically recording the entire interrogation process. At present, only a fraction of the interrogation process is recorded.
The panel eventually came up with a proposal to increase the scope of the recording. But this proposal still allows the possibility that public prosecutors will record only that part of the interrogation process that helps them build their case. Electronically recording the entire interrogation process should be the first step toward preventing false charges.
The panel also called for establishing an in-house inspection team within public prosecutors offices to check on prosecutorial activities. As to investigations by elite special investigation squads, which exist only in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, the panel called for prosecutors from outside the squads to check on the squads' investigatory activities. One wonders whether public prosecutors can adequately check on other public prosecutors.
Regrettably the panel made no concrete proposals as to whether defense lawyers should be present during the interrogation of suspects and whether prosecutors should disclose all the evidence they have to defense lawyers.