• Kyodo

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More lay judge trials are making use of fully recorded interrogations ever since police adopted new guidelines to avoid coerced confessions, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

In fiscal 2016 ended in March, 2,324 cases subject to such trials had complete recordings of the interrogations, up by 759 from the year before, the NPA said.

Historically, the police have been notorious for their lack of transparency when it comes to extracting confessions in criminal investigations, and the authorities have been under pressure to address this by shedding light on what goes on behind closed doors.

An amendment to the criminal procedure core will require all interrogations involving lay judge trials — which represent about 3 percent of all trials — to be recorded in full by June 2019. The NPA adopted the new guidelines in October.

In the half-year period from October 2016 to March, 1,108 cases headed for lay judge trials were prepared with complete recordings of the interrogations, accounting for 77.4 percent of all cases.

After decades of rampant allegations about police coercion during interrogations, the practice of recording interrogations in serious criminal cases was launched in 2008 on a trial basis in major police jurisdictions, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The practice went nationwide in 2009.

According to the NPA, the average length of audio or video per trial was 25 hours and 9 minutes in the latter half of fiscal 2016, up from 23 hours and 58 minutes in the first half.

Among 1,432 lay judge trials held in the latter half of fiscal 2016, cases with no recordings stood at 89, of which 88 involved organized crime.

Cases without fully recorded interrogations stood at 235 because some suspects refused to be recorded, devices malfunctioned or other emergency situations occurred.

The amended law is aimed at preventing illegal interrogation methods and removing any doubts on the validity of the confessions obtained.

Exceptions can be made if suspects object to being recorded, devices malfunction, gangsters are involved or if the police believe the suspects or suspects’ families could be at risk.

The agency’s new guidelines added another exception if there is a temporary shortage of recording devices during a surge in arrests.

As of the end of March 2017, there were close to 2,000 recording devices available at police departments and other locations. The NPA is trying to deploy more equipment as there are around 10,000 interrogation rooms in Japan.

Recordings were made in 3,399 cases where police questioned suspects with mental disabilities.

The figure represents an increase of 2,150 from the previous year as the recording target under the new guidelines covers suspects with impaired development and psychological disorders.

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