The defense counsel for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara submitted a letter of resignation Mar. 6 to the Tokyo District Court, saying it “cannot fulfill the necessary defense if the current pace of hearings continues.”

The defense team is court-appointed and the resignation is effectively a request to be relieved of its responsibilities. It is likely that the Tokyo District Court will turn down the request because the counsel is “not in a situation where they are unable to conduct a defense,” observers said.

If the court rejects the team’s request, the defense lawyers may boycott Asahara’s court sessions, adding further confusion to the trial, they said. The next sessions are scheduled to be held Mar. 13 and Mar. 14 next week.

According to the Criminal Procedure Law, court-appointed lawyers do not have the right to resign. They are allowed to request to be taken off a case but cannot appeal to higher courts if the court in question turns down the request, according to the law.

Since the trial opened last April, the court and lawyers have argued over the scheduling of hearings. The defense has said that the current pace of four sessions per month does not give lawyers enough time to prepare for thorough debate.

On Feb. 19, the defense asked the court to cancel the scheduled hearings in March and April and reduce the number of sessions in May to three. But the court turned down the request and scheduled four sessions per month through July. “The court has deprived the defendant of his right to defend himself and also to be defended by counsel,” the lawyers said in their resignation request. “It is focusing only on a speedy trial and not a thorough probe of the facts,” they said.

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