• Kyodo

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Japanese police will make audio and video recordings of the entirety of interrogations in criminal cases subject to lay judge trials on a trial basis starting Oct. 1, according to a new guideline formulated Thursday by the National Police Agency.

Transparency efforts in interrogations by police began in 2008, and the entirety of interrogations were recorded in 1,565 cases, or 48.6 percent, of 3,217 cases subject to lay judge trials in fiscal 2015.

The number of cases subject to audiovisual recordings is limited to about 3 percent of all criminal cases in Japan.

Police will shift to recording the entirety of interrogations in basically all lay judge cases with few exceptions, following the enactment of a law to make a series of changes to criminal proceedings in May.

Under the law, which will take effect within three years, the entirety of the interrogation process must be recorded in cases examined by lay judges assigned to handle serious criminal cases, including murder and robbery resulting in death. They also cover cases investigated by special prosecutor squads, which often deal with corporate crimes and corruption.

Exceptions are defined for the time being as cases in which transparency efforts are deemed obstructive to interrogation functions.

“Along with the transparency, we’ll further reinforce our investigations without heavily relying on questioning by enhancing the collection of objective evidence,” an official of the agency said.

According to the agency, police will also record the entirety of interrogations of suspects in nondesignated cases if the cases have potential to develop into lay judge trials, while it will also become possible to conduct the full recording in cases with little evidence and where obtaining statements is crucial.

Cases with suspects who have an intellectual disability and have a tendency to accommodate themselves easily to interrogators are subject to full recording as well.

Meanwhile, thorough use of recording equipment and improvements in interrogation skills are seen as essential for the new system.

According to the agency, about 10,000 interrogation rooms are located at around 1,200 police facilities but only 1,857 pieces of equipment necessary for such recordings were deployed as of the end of last year.

Police plan to increase the equipment count to around 2,000 by the end of next March.

Critics said investigators who examine suspects will need to adapt to a new environment with recording devices. It is also feared that both investigators and suspects may feel pressured and will not be able to talk easily while being recorded.