National / Crime & Legal

Lower House OKs recording of suspect questioning

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

In what is set to become a landmark development in Japan’s notoriously opaque criminal justice system, the Lower House passed an amendment Friday to mandate full recordings of criminal interrogations, introduce a plea bargain system and expand the use of the wiretap law.

After deliberations in the Upper House, the amendment will likely be approved during the ongoing Diet session and is expected to take effect within three years.

If passed, the revised bill will mark Japan’s first-ever obligatory recording of criminal interrogations. Currently, recordings are made by prosecutors on a voluntary basis only.

Still, the envisaged legislation will only be applied to the most serious cases, such as murder, arson and kidnap, that will be heard before a panel of lay judges, and special investigations led only by prosecutors. Together, these account for 3 percent of all criminal interrogations.

The law will also introduce a domestic version of what is known as a plea bargain.

After the new system is introduced, suspects and defendants accused of corporate crimes, such as bribery and tax evasion as well as drug trafficking, will be encouraged to give investigative authorities helpful leads on any accomplices in exchange for lighter penalties or even total exemption from indictment.

The bargain requires consensus by the accused parties’ lawyers. By providing these legal incentives, the law aims to help authorities better crack down on organized crime and identify ringleaders behind it.

In another attempt to curb organized crime the wiretap law, which is currently limited solely to drug-related crimes, will also be expanded to cover cases such as murder, fraud and theft.

Calls for Japan to increase transparency in the interrogation process flared in March last year when death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada was freed after spending 45 years behind bars.

His release followed a court order in Shizuoka Prefecture to reopen his high-profile 1966 murder case.

The revised bill was submitted based on recommendations made by the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council last year.

The panel was set up in 2010 after criticism mounted over the wrongful arrest of welfare ministry official Atsuko Muraki, whom prosecutors indicted on charges of fraud after altering evidence.