Lawyer co-op set to provide bail bond aid

Defendants can get ¥3 million; plan to up walk rate from 18%

Kyodo

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations will launch a bail bond system as early as next July for cash-strapped defendants who lack the funds to post their own bail while awaiting a criminal trial, federation officials said Friday.

Under the new system, the Japan Lawyers Cooperative would act as guarantor and would post bail of up to ¥3 million for defendants. The cooperative also would have to submit to the court a written promise to pay the required amount should the defendant fail to fulfill the terms of the bail. The defendant would pay a nonrefundable fee of 2 percent of the bail paid.

The federation hopes the new system, to be introduced after discussions with the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry, will help increase the rate of defendants in criminal cases who are released on bail to about 50 percent. The current rate is just 18 percent.

The Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that those eligible for bail can be released if they make a cash payment, or if their lawyer or other parties post bond. But in practice, the bail bond option has rarely been used.

Of the 65,000 defendants held in custody during fiscal 2010, about 12,000 were released on bail, government statistics show.

While many of the defendants who were refused bail are believed to have posed a high risk of absconding, the federation said it estimates that about 20,000 were kept in custody simply because they couldn’t afford to post their own bail.

“It is a problem that release on bail is realized only for defendants with financial resources,” an experienced court judge said on condition of anonymity.

The defendant’s family or other pertinent parties who make a contract with the cooperative would have to place a deposit equivalent to 10 percent of the bail, which would be returned at the end of trial proceedings if the bond conditions are met.

But if the defendant jumps bail, the party to the contract would be billed after the cooperative pays the full amount of bail to the court.

According to a law firm, the average amount of bail for drug-related charges is around ¥1.5 million, while defendants facing charges over serious traffic accidents, such as hit-and-run incidents and drunken driving, usually have to cough up more than ¥3 million.

In corporate or finance-related cases, meanwhile, it is not uncommon for politicians and heads of major businesses to pay several hundred million yen in bail to secure their release.

“It is terribly unfair that whether one can be released on bail or not is determined by economic clout,” one official said. “By widening the scope of those who can be released on bail and thus reducing unnecessary custody, the new system can also help cut down on government labor costs at detention facilities.”