A law revision that took effect in May 2009 gave citizen committees, which are composed of 11 randomly-selected people, the power to override prosecutors’ decision not to file an indictment in a criminal case. If a prosecution inquest committee votes (with at least an 8-3 majority) on two occasions to reverse a no-indictment decision, then a trial is ordered with a court-appointed lawyer serving as prosecutor.

Kobe’s No. 2 prosecution inquest committee on Jan. 27 became the first to exercise this power, when it considered a case in which 11 people died in a stampede on a pedestrian overpass in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, on the night of July 21, 2001, during a fireworks event sponsored by the city government.

In December 2002, public prosecutors indicted two police officers who were at the scene and three city government officials. The head and the vice head of the Akashi Police Station were not indicted, a decision that some locals opposed. On the request of relatives of the victims, the committee reviewed the prosecutors’ decision on three occasions and voted for indictment each time, but the prosecutors did not indict the police station head or vice head. The Jan. 27 vote was the fourth, and the second since the revised law came into effect. As a result, the vice head will now be tried (the police station head died in July 2007).

The committee said that while it believes the vice head was guilty of negligence, of greater importance is that his trial will help to clearly establish the events of the night in question, including the acts and omissions of the police. By this, the recurrence of similar accidents might be prevented. It also said that the trial should focus not only on police behavior on the night but also on prior planning toward crowd management.

Clearly, the committee tried to reflect ordinary citizens’ concerns about the stampede. Legal institutions should try to uphold the dominant values of society. In the coming trial, the police, the court, the public prosecutors’ office and the bar association should all assist the court-appointed prosecutor.

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