Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"More interrogations 'visualized' / Justice minister wants procedure used in all lay judge cases"

Here's an update about the recording of interrogations by the police in Japan from today's Daily Yomiuri Online. Note the interesting definition of "visualization" employed by the Justice Ministry...

The Justice Ministry has announced its policy that the "visualization" of interrogations in criminal investigations through audio or video recording is essential, and should be institutionalized under the responsibility of the ministry.

In addition to the ministry's announcement Monday, Justice Minister Satsuki Eda instructed the prosecutor general to expand the range of cases subject to the practice.

At present, visualized interrogations are only partly used, and only in cases subject to lay judge trials in which the accused admits the facts presented in the indictment.

In most cases, the term "visualization" does not refer to a recording of the interrogation itself. Instead, prosecutors write interrogation reports and then are recorded reading them aloud for 15 to 30 minutes on a DVD.

Eda instructed Prosecutor General Haruo Kasama to expand the use of visualization to cases subject to lay judge trials in which the accused denies the charges, creating such recordings for all cases subject to lay judge trials on an experimental basis.

It is very rare for a justice minister to give direct instructions to a prosecutor general, even though the Public Prosecutors Office Law gives the justice minister authority over the prosecutor general.

The ministry set up an internal study group to discuss institutionalizing visualization in October 2009 under then Justice Minister Keiko Chiba. The group has studied interrogation systems in other countries and the current situation in Japan.

The ministry's announcement Monday, a document titled "Toward Realizing Visualization of Interrogations," is considered its official conclusion on the issue, based on the study group's final report also released Monday.

In the document, the Justice Ministry mentioned that a special committee of the ministry's Legislative Council, an advisory panel to justice minister, had also started discussions about making visualization a standard practice.

It also said, "Considering the importance of the aim of visualization, the Justice Ministry expects to receive a report from the Legislative Council as soon as possible and will carry out visualization as an institution."

Interrogations in the early stages of investigations soon after arrests and the process of compiling interrogation reports will also be subject to visualization under Eda's new instructions.

The ministry is going to expand the scope of visualization even to cases in which the accused denied charges because it intends to carry out appropriate interrogations and avoid wrongful convictions. It also aims to support prosecutors' efforts to prove the voluntariness of confessions.

Expanding the scope of visualization will be started within a month. The ministry plans to compile a report after a year, reviewing results of visualization efforts.

According to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, visualization efforts had been conducted for 3,572 cases subject to lay judge trials by May. Of them, in 39 hearings of lay judge trials, visualization DVDs were discussed. In each of those cases, the judges concluded that the accused had admitted the charges on a voluntary basis.

The final report of the study group expressed a negative view toward institutionalizing the recording of interrogation procedures in their entirety, saying, "It is not appropriate to establish a system which imposes videotaping and tape-recoding without exception."

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