Asahara counsel intent on boycotting trial

The defense counsel for Shoko Asahara, founder of Aum Shinrikyo, said Mar. 13 it would boycott a court session scheduled for Mar. 14 after disagreeing with the court on how the guru’s murder trial should proceed.

The next session, the guru’s 30th, thus appears destined to forgo substantial examination for the first time since Asahara’s trial started last April. The defense team said it still plans to attend two sessions scheduled for March 27 and 28, saying three sessions a month is their acceptable maximum.

The lawyers have been insisting the current pace of the hearings — four per month — is far beyond their capacity. The 12 lawyers in the team requested last week that they be relieved of their court-appointed duties, but the court rejected the request, prompting the team to boycott. Court-appointed lawyers are not legally allowed to resign on their own.

In the session Mar. 13, presiding Judge Fumihiro Abe exchanged fierce arguments with the team about the proceedings and the court’s suggestions on how it the defense could expedite the trial. Abe demanded the defense team clarify its points of contention and its position toward the enormous amount of evidence presented by the prosecution. “It will take more than 10 years to conclude the trial at the current pace” at the district court level, the judge said. The prosecutors also urged the defense team to make efforts toward efficiency.

The lawyers argued that they are obligated to examine all the arguments and evidence put forth by the prosecution and that they do not have enough time to clarify their position because of the tight trial schedule. “We do not have an obligation to arrange points of contention,” said Osamu Watanabe, the chief counsel. “If the amount of evidence is too large, the prosecution is to blame.”

The defense team has neither agreed nor disagreed to the thousands of items of evidence submitted by the prosecution. The court claims such reservation delays the proceedings because examinations cannot be focused.

Abe said at least six sessions a month will be necessary to examine all the evidence if the defense counsel does not clarify its position. The attorneys countered that the judge is effectively demanding that the lawyers unreasonably agree to the evidence by abusing the judge’s right to manage the trial. Some lawyers also argued that the court’s attitude in placing priority on schedule over substance is wrong.