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To prepare for the start of the lay judge system in May 2009, the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office has decided to make audio and video recordings, on a trial basis, of the confessions and interrogations of criminal suspects. The trial period will run from this month to yearend. The SPPO will later decide whether to institutionalize the process.

Under the lay judge system, three professional judges, and six lay judges selected from among the citizenry, will decide the guilt or innocence of suspects tried for serious crimes such as murder, arson and kidnapping.

The SPPO decision is a step forward in view of the fact that criminal suspects currently are interrogated in “closets” at police stations and public prosecutor’s offices. Because of this practice, the reliability of recorded confessions often becomes a central issue in a trial, contributing to a lengthy hearing process or, in worst cases, to prosecution under false charges.

Usually an arrested suspect is first held and questioned at a police station for 48 hours before being sent to public prosecutors for another 24 hours of questioning. Prosecutors may detain the suspect for up to an additional 20 days before filing formal charges. In most cases, the suspect is detained in a police jail.

The proposed recording method has some problems. Only an interrogation involving a suspect and prosecutors — not police officers — will be recorded, and not all of a session will be recorded. Prosecutors can decide which part to record. So the question arises: Can confessions recorded under this condition be relied upon? Prosecutors may pick only the parts of confessions that suit their scenario of the crime.

Still, the recordings, however limited, are significant because law-enforcement authorities have adamantly refused to disclose any part of an interrogation. It is hoped that their decision to do so now will lead to additional measures that ensure transparency during interrogation.

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