Efforts to Improve Criminal Procedures
Interrogations in Japan, Visual Recordings of Interrogations by the Police and Prosecutors
Criminal investigations in Japan focus on obtaining a confession from the suspect. Arrested suspects are normally detained in police detention cells (daiyo kangoku) until they are indicted, instead of the detention houses under the control of the Ministry of Justice, for 20 days at the longest per suspected case. Thus, the detaining of suspects is used as a method of obtaining confessions, and there is no end to the number of suspects who provide false confessions after being detained in police detention cells, subjected to lengthy interrogations behind closed doors where attorneys are not allowed to be present over a long period of time, and placed under violence, threat, and undue influence. This is the chief reason for false accusations being brought to the court.
The JFBA has long been critical of these investigative methods and has requested the introduction of video recordings of the entire process of interrogations in order to prevent illegal interrogations which could result in a miscarriage of justice. In 2006, the public prosecutors office commenced partial visual recordings of interrogations, but there are many problems because such recordings will be made of a partial interrogation of a case chosen by public prosecutors themselves. The JFBA is concerned that such partial visual recordings would not ensure appropriate interrogation methods for the remaining interrogations that will not be recorded and that unrecorded portions, which are barred from being shown, might lead judges and saiban-in (lay judges) to misunderstand the interrogations as a whole. The JFBA is therefore requesting that all interrogations be video recorded.
The JFBA has endeavored to achieve a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system, including a ban on daiyo kangoku.
Ban on Hostage Justice
In Japan, detention of suspects is quite easily admitted based on the fear of destruction of the evidence, and there is no pre-indictment bail system. Even after indictment, bail is not easily given; it is especially difficult to obtain bail in a case where there is a dispute over the facts. As a result there are many cases where suspects are forced to admit facts against their will. Thus, by being detained physically, suspects and defendants are denied their right to a defense. Criminal law academics criticized the current situation of the Japanese criminal justice system with the aforementioned problems by calling it "hostage justice." The JFBA has long advocated that this detention and bail system be reformed.
Review of the Penal System
The Nagoya Prison Case in which Nagoya Prison officials abused an inmate to death and seriously injured another using leather handcuffs triggered comprehensive amendments to the Prison Law and the Act on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment of Inmates and Detainees came into effect in June 2007. The reform created a system by which inmates can file complaints and the Penal Institution Visiting Committee. The committee, consisting of attorneys, doctors, and representatives of citizens, inspects the penal institution, hears the voice of inmates, and provides recommendations to the warden of the penal institution in order to improve its treatment of inmates.
Suspension of Executions
Japan has the death penalty. In 2002, the Board of Governors of the JFBA adopted a recommendation for "full public debate concerning the death penalty and passage of a time-limited act to suspend the execution of prisoners for a set period of time until improvements in the execution system can be made (Act on Suspension of Executions)". The JFBA has repeatedly requested that the Minister of Justice suspend the implementation of death penalty. The JFBA also has been striving to improve the treatment of death row inmates and supporting their appeals for retrial.
Support for Crime Victims
Local bar associations offer victim consultation services in order to expand the legal assistance available to crime victims. They also train attorneys specialized in victim assistance. In addition, a system that enables crime victims to participate in criminal procedures as well as a court-appointed attorney system for crime victims were newly established, thus the supporting framework has taken shape.
Public Attendant System for Juvenile Cases
In juvenile hearing proceedings, the juvenile and guardian may elect to appoint an attendant. The JFBA has been focusing its efforts in enhancing the activities by attorney attendants. Currently, a discretionary court-appointed attorney system exists; however, they are limited to certain serious cases, and the appointment is left to the discretion of the court. The JFBA has been urging realization of a full Public Attendant System. In particular, when the court-appointed attorney system for suspects is implemented, and the scope of cases is extended, a problem will occur in juvenile cases in that an attorney will be appointed for a suspected juvenile, but none may be appointed after the case reaches the hearing proceedings. Therefore, the JFBA has established a fund to offer attendant services for juveniles in family court, and commissioned the Japan Legal Support Center to provide this service.
Promotion of the Use of "Suspect's Notes" - Towards the Realization of Transparent Interrogations