Japanese police and prosecutors are now obliged to record interrogations of suspects in serious criminal cases as legal revisions fully came into force Saturday.
Under the revisions, the entire interrogation process must be recorded in cases subject to lay judge trials, including cases of murder and robbery resulting in death, as well as cases investigated by special prosecutor squads, which often deal with corporate crimes and corruption.
Interrogations of suspects who have mental disabilities will also have to be recorded in full.
The revisions are designed to prevent illegal outcomes, such as forced confessions, and to protect people from facing false charges. Audiovisual recordings will be used to establish the credibility of defendants’ statements in trials.
But cases subject to the change account for only about 3 percent of the total, and the introduction of the measure to improve transparency will be limited to the questioning of suspects who have been arrested or detained, not those who speak to investigators on a voluntary basis.
Critics often point to a lack of transparency in interrogations conducted by Japanese police and prosecutors, as lawyers are not allowed to be present during questioning.
Police and prosecutors have already started recording interrogations in most designated cases. In fiscal 2017, interrogations in 2,583 cases, or 98.4 percent, of those subject to citizen judge trials were fully recorded at prosecutors’ offices nationwide.
As for cases investigated by special prosecutor squads, interrogations in all 83 cases they dealt with in the same year were recorded in their entirety, according to the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In fiscal 2018 through March this year, the police also recorded full interrogations in 2,860 cases, or 87.6 percent, of criminal cases bound for lay judge trials, the National Police Agency said.
In addition to revisions to the Code of Criminal Procedure, a revised wiretapping law enacted in May 2016 also became fully effective Saturday, enabling investigators to wiretap phones and emails to probe organized and other crimes without the presence of telecommunications carrier personnel.
In order to prevent tampering of evidence, the police will introduce special equipment to encrypt content they have intercepted.
Recordings of the interrogation processes began on a trial basis by prosecutors in 2006 and the police in 2008 to prepare for trials involving citizen judges that started in May 2009.
Calls to expand the scope of recordings gathered momentum after former senior members of the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office were found in September 2010 to have covered up evidence tampering by a subordinate during the course of an investigation into abuse of a postal discount system.
The cover-up came to light shortly after former senior welfare ministry official Atsuko Muraki was acquitted in the case of forging a document to enable an unqualified organization to take advantage of the postal discount system for people with disabilities.
Among other legal revisions related to criminal proceedings, a plea bargaining system for those involved in organized crime and bribery cases was introduced in June 2018.
Under the system, prosecutors can agree not to indict or to pursue lesser charges or lighter penalties if suspects or defendants provide evidence or depositions against alleged accomplices.
Recently, a plea bargaining agreement was struck by prosecutors and senior officials of Nissan Motor Co. cooperating in investigations of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested last year for alleged financial misconduct.