Comment Regarding the National Police Agency's Announcement of its "Assessment of the Trial Implementation of Audio/Video Recording of Interrogations"
December 6, 2012
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
On December 6, 2012, the National Police Agency announced its “Assessment of the Trial Implementation of Audio/Video Recording of Interrogations,” which detailed the status of the trial implementation of audio/video recording of interrogations for the period from September 2008 to September 2012, placing a particular emphasis on the period after April 2012 when the trial was expanded.
In regard to the cases under the lay judge system, such trial implementation has steadily increased, especially after the launch of the expanded trial. The figures show that trial recordings were implemented for 1,241 arrests out of the total of 1,849 arrests that proceeded under the lay judge system. This figure accounted for 67.1% of all such arrests. In terms of when such recordings were performed, recordings conducted before the case is handed over to the prosecutor accounted for 43.2% of all cases or 730 cases. Recorded cases featuring partial denials by suspects made up 30.8% among all cases, recorded cases featuring a complete denial accounted for 3.6%. In terms of the duration of such video recordings, they were 21 minutes on average (the portion of the interrogation being recorded varied from case to case), with 209 minutes being the longest such recording. This average was slightly longer than the average duration attained in the previous assessment in June 2011. This leads us to the conclusion that the recording has only been made for a small part of the investigation process, and this is a very long way from achieving the aim of recording the entire process of interrogations.
In this regard, we note that the National Police Agency has made the following statement in its announcement; “The audio/video recording on trial has not necessarily been conducted for the entire process of interrogations. As some people have correctly pointed out that precise verification is not achievable when the voluntariness of a statement which was not recorded becomes a point at issue, it is desirable that interrogations should be recorded to the greatest extent possible per case.” However, it is quite clear that the Police Agency should rather be promoting the recording of the entire process of interrogations.
Regarding the effectiveness of such recordings, 91.5% of interrogators answered that such process was effective. In response to a question about the recording of the entire process of the interrogations, 34.0% answered, “In some cases, it is better to record the entire process.” Combining this figure with the result that 3.7% answered that “it was necessary to record the entire process”, indicates that interrogators have begun to understand the effectiveness of recording the entire process of such interrogations. It should be noted that 4.7% of the interrogators supported the idea of mandating the recording of the entire process of interrogations for the reason that it could contribute to improving the interrogation skills of interrogators). It is expected that, through efforts aimed toward improving their interrogation skills, a number of interrogators who are now reluctant to the idea of recording the entire process of interrogations may change their attitude.
Trial recordings for cases involving suspects with intellectual disabilities commenced in May 2012. As of the end of September 2012, recordings had been performed in a total of 417 cases, which accounted for about 90% of the total of 463 cases which involved the intellectually challenged and which fell under the auspices of this trial. Among these recorded cases, there were 17 cases in which “an audio/video recording was made of every interrogation occasion for a single case.” The National Police Agency is required to inform all detectives, senior or otherwise, and make sure that they understand that interrogations must be recorded when there is a suspicion that the person being questioned is suffering from an intellectual disability. This understanding must occur during the deposition and the early stages of an interrogation, and thereafter the entire process should be recorded. It is expected that the recording of the “entire process” of a case’s interrogations will be expanded. We feel that some factors which detectives have viewed as being adverse effects, such as the psychological burden on interrogators when asking non-inductive questions, are like putting the cart before the horse, and instead believe that, for the sake of improving interrogation skills, the National Police Agency should proactively recognize the effectiveness of audio/video recordings of the entire process of each and every case.
The JFBA calls for a budget increase at the national and local levels so that recording devices are equipped in every police station throughout the country and so that the recording devices can be decreased in size so as to promote a reduced level of psychological stress on suspects. We also call for further efforts to be made for the improvement of interrogation skills at such police stations, by implementing the audio/video recording of the “entire process” of interrogations.