A bill to revise the criminal procedure law, endorsed by the Cabinet based on a proposal last year by an advisory panel to the justice minister, introduces plea bargaining as a new tool for investigators and allows for wider use of wiretapping in criminal probes, while limiting the scope of mandatory electronic recording of interrogations. The Diet needs to closely examine if the revision will truly serve its intended purpose of ensuring transparency in criminal investigations with the aim of preventing false charges.

The Legislative Council’s proposal was an outcome of three years of discussions that followed a high-profile case in which Atsuko Muraki, now vice minister of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, was arrested and indicted in 2009 on the charge that she ordered the forgery of an official document to enable the misuse of a postal discount system for associations of disabled people. She was subsequently acquitted in court as it emerged that a prosecution investigator, who was later convicted of tampering with evidence, led another ministry official into making confessions implicating Muraki to fit his version of events. The incident highlighted the danger of the emphasis that criminal investigations in this country place on testimony made in during interrogations, with a number of cases of false charges and wrongful convictions resulting from false confessions made by suspects who were led or coerced by investigators.

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