U.S. report slams criminal court system


The U.S. government said in an annual report released Tuesday that criminal court procedures in Japan serve the interests of prosecutors rather than defendants.

In its Japan section, the U.S. State Department’s 2007 report on human rights conditions around the world states, “Trial procedures favor the prosecution,” touching upon a case in Toyama Prefecture in which a man was wrongly imprisoned for rape. The man initially confessed but was later acquitted after the real culprit was found.

The department referred to a report on the case by the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, which acknowledged “investigators sometimes placed too much emphasis on confessions.”

While access to defense lawyers is legally guaranteed in Japan, “a significant number of defendants reported that this access was insufficient,” the U.S. report noted.

“The law does not require full disclosure by prosecutors, and material the prosecution does not use in court may be suppressed,” it said. “The legal representatives of some defendants claimed that they did not receive access to relevant material in the police record.”

Another serious problem in court is “a language barrier for foreign defendants,” the report said. “No guidelines existed to ensure effective communication between judges, lawyers, and non-Japanese-speaking defendants.”

“Several foreign detainees claimed that police urged them to sign statements in Japanese that they could not read and that were not translated adequately,” it added.

Man wins apology

UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) The Utsunomiya District Public Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday that it will accept a ruling that awarded ¥1 million in consolation money to a mentally disabled man who was wrongly arrested for robbery.

The man submitted a petition to police the same day through his supporters, demanding punitive measures against the police officers involved, a re-examination of the case and an apology.

“We wrongly believed . . . that his confession was trustworthy. We could have doubted his confession if we had investigated the case carefully,” said Noboru Watanabe, deputy chief prosecutor.