Transparency in interrogations

Five members of a special panel of the Legislative Council, an official advisory body for the justice minister, have proposed phasing in the process of electronically recording the entire interrogations of criminal suspects by investigators. The proposal says that, in principle, the entire interrogation process should be electronically recorded for all crimes except minor cases such as traffic violations. The council should take the proposal seriously and lay the foundation for this change.

Among the five members are Atsuko Muraki, administrative vice minister of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, who was falsely indicted on a charge of forging an official document before being acquitted in September 2010, and movie director Masayuki Suo, who directed the 2007 feature movie “Soredemo boku wa yatte inai” (I Just Didn’t Do It), which dealt with a man falsely accused of groping a junior high school girl student on a crowded train.

As the first step, the proposal recommends recording all interrogations in criminal cases that go to trial handled by lay judges. These would include serious crimes such as murder, burglary leading to death or injury, arson and abduction for ransom. The scope of crimes for full electronic recordings should be gradually expanded as police stations across the nation acquire recording equipment, the proposal says. Because it is easy for public prosecutors offices across the nation to install the necessary equipment, the proposal says public prosecutors should start immediately electronically recording questions and answers between investigators and criminal suspects.

Separately, three years ago, a private advisory body for the justice minister took up the issue of full-scale electronic recordings of interrogations, but it was unable to come up with a meaningful proposal because of a clash of ideas that prevented members of the body from arriving at a consolidated opinion. To avoid a repeat of this failure, the Legislative Council is urged to respond positively to the proposal made by the special panel.

For their part, prosecutors — who believe that such recordings would hamper the interrogation process — hope to limit recordings of interrogation processes, not necessarily full-scale, to crimes covered by lay judge trials. As these crimes account for only 3 percent of all reported crimes, groping cases (for which many false charges have been filed), or cases like the one in which four people were mistakenly arrested on suspicion of remotely manipulating personal computers, would not be covered.

To ascertain whether suspect gave testimony freely — without being coerced or subjected to leading questions — the electronic recording of the entire interrogation process is indispensable.

In cases in which full disclosure in court of an interrogation might invite retaliation against the person who made the statements or cause psychological pain to crime victims — for example, a mobster who testified about his boss’s involvement in a crime, or rape cases — the interrogation recordings should be heard behind closed doors.