A private advisory body for Justice Minister Satsuki Eda, headed by his predecessor Ms. Keiko Chiba, is now discussing ways to reform Japan’s prosecution process. It is scheduled to make proposals by the end of March. Proposals should ensure that investigation by public prosecutors is done in a just way and that suspects’ rights are fully protected.

In late December, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office submitted to the panel its report containing proposals for reforming investigation procedures. But it failed to interview Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former high-ranking health and welfare ministry official, whose acquittal in September in an official document fabrication case triggered the report. It also surfaced that a public prosecutor of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office who handled her case had tampered with evidence, a floppy disk.

Since her arrest in June 2009, Ms. Muraki has consistently denied her involvement. Speaking before the panel, she said a prosecutor told her that his job was to overturn her confessions. The Osaka District Court decided not to use as evidence most of the public prosecutors’ records of oral statements made by witnesses, pointing to the use of leading questions and coercion. But 30 to 40 records showing her involvement did have consistency. In view of this, Ms. Muraki called for electronically recording the whole process of interrogation and allowing a lawyer’s presence throughout.

In an arson case also investigated by the Osaka prosecution office, it became clear that a public prosecutor posed leading questions to a suspect with a mental disability when asking him to verify a record of his oral statement. There is the possibility that the prosecutor used leading questions when interrogating him.

Public prosecutors resist having to electronically record the entire interrogation process, arguing that they deal with too many cases. But what has surfaced, including other cases, underscores the importance of recording. They also should present all the evidence they have during pretrial sessions with defense lawyers.

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