The Justice Ministry has proposed that several exceptions be made to efforts to record interrogations by investigative authorities across the nation, while mandating that such recordings cover the entire interrogations process.
At a meeting Wednesday of a special panel of the ministry’s Legislative Council, which is tasked with revamping the nation’s criminal justice system, the ministry also proposed vastly expanding the range of suspected crimes for which wiretapping can be authorized to include murder and arson, participants said. The panel advises the justice minister.
The ministry hopes to wrap up the talks by summer and submit related bills to the Diet next year, but at Wednesday’s meeting, more than a few members called for changes to the proposals, the participants said.
The draft changes were proposed amid mounting calls to have interrogations recorded because the absence of such records, experts say, has contributed to wrongful convictions in Japan, which boasts a conviction rate of about 99 percent.
Audio and video recordings of interrogations are seen as crucial to verifying the propriety of policy and other interrogations that are allegedly used to produce confessions by coercion. They are also needed in trials to establish that they were conducted in a voluntary nature.
In the meeting, the ministry proposed requiring police and prosecutors to audio- and videotape interrogations from beginning to end.
But exceptions would be made under various circumstances, such as if the suspects refuse to be recorded, if the act of recording is found to make it difficult to obtain suspects’ statements sufficiently, and if the cases involve organized crime.
The ministry also proposed expanding the range of suspected crimes for which phone calls and email can be intercepted to include not just the current four types of crimes, such as illegal drugs and firearms, but also cases of murder, arson, robbery, fraud and theft that are suspected of being part of organized crime.
Among the other changes proposed by the ministry were the option of making immunity deals, in which suspects who cooperate in solving cases avoid having charges brought against them, and the assigning of state-appointed defense lawyers to all suspects in detention.
Prosecutors began recording interrogations on a trial basis in 2006. Today they in principle record interrogations in all cases that will be examined in trials involving both lay judges and professional judges if suspects are indicted.
The police began recording interrogations on a trial basis in 2008, and in 2012 began recording interrogations in cases where suspects denied wrongdoing.