The Democratic Party of Japan’s election manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election called for videotaping entire interrogations of criminal suspects to prevent false charges. It is extremely regrettable that the government has decided to postpone the submission of a related bill to the Diet. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba has backed away from calling for videotaping entire interrogations and now calls for a “realistic review” of the present system.
Immediately after the inauguration of the Hatoyama administration in mid-September 2009, National Public Safety Commission Chairman Hiroshi Nakai complicated discussions on the matter by saying that if entire interrogations are to be videotaped, investigators should be given new investigative tools including sting operations and plea bargaining. Mr. Nakai is not an enthusiastic supporter of videotaping interrogations. Regrettably, Ms. Chiba has came to embrace a similar stance to his.
A Justice Ministry panel, in which the justice minister, the senior justice vice minister and the parliamentary secretary of justice are playing a leading role, released an interim report in mid-June. The report says that since public prosecutors offices handle some 2 million criminal cases a year, including traffic accidents, videotaping interrogations in their entirety would be too costly and troublesome. It recommended that studies be carried out on limiting the scope of interrogations that must be videotaped.
Such a change, however, would mean that crucial parts of interrogations could go unrecorded. Justice Ministry officials must remember that false charges are not limited to serious crimes such as murder, arson, rape and kidnapping for ransom. Given that several countries, including Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and France, as well as some U.S. states, are already recording entire interrogations without a hitch, the government’s arguments against doing so are not convincing. If the DPJ government fails to make good on its campaign promise, DPJ lawmakers should submit their own bill to the Diet.
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