Upper House backs bill to tape grillings

Police slam measure; ruling bloc veto likely

Kyodo News

A panel of the opposition-controlled House of Councilors endorsed a bill Tuesday requiring police and prosecutors to record the questioning of criminal suspects, a measure the opposition aired after a recent spate of wrongful prosecutions later resulted in acquittals.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who supervises prosecutors, strongly criticized the bill, telling reporters it would turn Japan into a “paradise for criminals.”

“Heart-to-heart exchanges between an investigator and a suspect have helped to delve into the truth behind crimes,” he said. “A complete recording would make it difficult to establish the facts.”

State minister Shinya Izumi, who supervises the nation’s police forces as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, said police cannot accept the bill.

“Can it unravel the truth?” Izumi asked at a separate news conference.

Lawyer Makoto Miyazaki, president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, welcomed the measure, describing it as “epoch-making.”

“Making investigations visible would help eradicate the evil aspects of closed-door questioning and prevent an outbreak of false accusations,” Miyazaki said.

Members of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party voted for the bill in the Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee.

The upper chamber is expected to pass the bill at a plenary session Wednesday and send it to the ruling coalition-controlled House of Representatives for more deliberations.

However, the legislation is unlikely to be enacted as the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc opposes it.

The DPJ submitted the bill to the Diet in December, saying, “The grilling of suspects behind closed doors is the source of wrongful accusations.”

The bill, intended to revise the Code of Criminal Procedure, requires that police and prosecutors record the questioning of suspects using more than two mediums that can record images and sound.

Public calls for transparency in the closed-door investigation process have mounted, particularly after all 12 defendants charged with election violations in a recent case were cleared by the Kagoshima District Court in February 2007.

In Toyama Prefecture, also in 2007, a man was cleared in a retrial after being held more than 1,000 days for rape and attempted rape, because his confession had been forced.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has demanded that investigators record every aspect of closed-door interrogations in all cases.

Prosecutors began recording interrogations on DVDs on a test basis in August 2006 ahead of the launch of the lay judge system in 2009, saying it would help establish the credibility of suspects’ depositions.

The practice was extended to all district public prosecutor’s offices in April, but the scope of the recordings is limited to “areas which prosecutors recognize to be appropriate.”