Ministry responds to crime victims’ pleas

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The Justice Ministry has ordered prosecutors to disclose the interrogation reports of suspects or witnesses for the victims’ side in dropped cases if such evidence is deemed essential in ensuing damages suits, it was learned Monday.

In response to mounting calls from victims of crimes and traffic accidents that such information be disclosed, the ministry overturned its policy that only objective evidence, such as the outcome of on-site inspections, can be released to victims seeking compensation.

The ministry sent letters of notification dated May 31 of its decision to local public prosecutors’ offices nationwide, ministry officials said.

The Criminal Procedure Law prohibits investigation reports from being made public before they are presented to courts, effectively banning evidence from being seen by victims, usually in instances in which prosecutors do not proceed with the cases.

But since 2000, the ministry has allowed objective evidence to be disclosed to the victims’ side.

The ministry set three criteria for interrogation reports to be shown to victims: that such reports be essential for damages suits filed by victims, that those who had been interrogated cannot appear at such trials, and that the disclosure of the reports does not greatly infringe on the privacy of those who were interrogated.

A request for disclosure of interrogation reports must be filed by the courts handling the damages suits filed by victims, and prosecutors will be allowed to judge whether to release an interrogation report in view of the criteria.

Tadaari Katayama, who has led a grassroots campaign for broader access by victims to investigation reports since he lost his 8-year-old son in a traffic accident in 1997, praised the latest move, saying it will help victims seek greater justice in civil lawsuits.

“It will also require prosecutors to compile better interrogation reports and make sound judgment on whether to indict those who inflicted damage,” he said.