Aspecial panel of the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council on June 29 started discussions on judicial system reform for criminal cases. The panel was set up in response to the discovery of evidence-tampering by a member of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad.

The evidence-tampering involved a case in which a former health and welfare ministry official was being tried on a charge of forging an official document.

In late March, another panel made proposals for prosecution reform after five months of discussions. But the proposals were unsatisfactory.

The new panel should come up with convincing proposals to reform the current system, which greatly relies on investigators’ records of suspects’ oral statements — often the source of false charges.

The 26-member panel consists of legal professionals, scholars and nonlegal professionals. The last category includes Ms. Atsuko Muraki, the former health and welfare ministry official acquitted of the document forging charge.

The panel should give priority to preventing false charges. There have been cases in which investigators used leading questions or threats during the interrogation of suspects, with the result that suspects have been charged falsely.

If the entire interrogation process were electronically recorded, such false charges could be prevented.

Although there has been strong opposition from investigators to electronically recording the whole process of interrogation, the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office recently started electronically recording the entire interrogation process on a trial basis.

In light of the cases in which defendants were given life sentences because of false charges, investigators no longer seem to have sufficient grounds for opposing the recording of the entire interrogation process. The panel should also pay attention to an opinion that the entire process of questioning witnesses should be electronically recorded.

For the sake of a fair trial, public prosecutors should be required to disclose all evidence they possess to defense lawyers before the start of a trial. Public prosecutors who have failed to do so should be given criminal punishment or be deprived of their licenses.

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