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Japanese prosecutors have remotely questioned people in connection with criminal cases in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to sources familiar with the matter.

There have been several instances in which people of interest were summoned to their nearest prosecutorial facilities for questioning via an online system initially intended for interpreters, the sources said.

“In principle, questioning should be carried out face to face and this practice is exceptional,” a senior prosecutor said. While Japan’s criminal procedure law does not bar remote questioning, there had been no such cases in the past.

Due to security concerns, prosecutors are not allowed to use Zoom or other videoconferencing services, the sources said, adding that the remote system introduced in 2020 is connected to internal networks.

Investigative statements still need to be signed or stamped by people of interest prior to submission by mail to the district public prosecutors’ office that conducted the questioning, the sources said.

Although concerns about the fairness of procedures and privacy remain, some members of a Justice Ministry panel in charge of discussing the digitalization of the country’s criminal justice system are in favor of promoting remote questioning.

Those who are supportive have said remote questioning by prosecutors will help expedite procedures, noting that trials via video link are already common in Japan.

The specifics of remote questioning are shrouded in secrecy, with the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office saying, “We will refrain from answering because it is about the manner in which a criminal case is investigated.”

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