<COVID-19>Statement on the Postponement of Criminal Trial Dates, etc.
On April 7, 2020, the Japanese Government declared a State of Emergency over seven prefectures in accordance with the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response, defining the novel coronavirus COVID-19 as being subject to this law. Subsequently, some prefectures issued their own State of Emergency declarations.
As a result of this, many of the criminal trial dates that had been scheduled up to May 6, 2020 at district courts (including those not located in the seven prefectures above) have been postponed.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) has no objection regarding the necessity of taking preventive measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, it is not justifiable if, due to an excessive emphasis on infection prevention, the human rights of defendants are restricted beyond the minimum necessary extent.
Right to a speedy trial (Article 37(1), the Constitution of Japan) is a basic human right that must be respected to the maximum degree regardless of whether or not a defendant is in physical detention. An extension of the period of detention can be of huge detriment, especially for physically detained defendants Specifically, in cases where the result of an acquittal, fully suspended sentence or fine could have been reached had no postponements been made, the postponement of a trial date results in none other than a prolongation of unnecessary and unjustifiable physical detention, and is completely unacceptable.
Furthermore, if any inmate becomes infected in a detention facility where a defendant is detained, a mass outbreak may occur in the premises, endangering the life and physical safety of the defendant. There have in fact been reports of employees and inmates being infected with COVID-19 at some detention facilities.
Thus, the JFBA calls on courts to undertake the following three measures:
1. Cautiously deciding postponements of criminal trial dates in cases where the defendant is physically detained, consulting with defense counsel as appropriate. If postponement is unavoidable, flexibly taking measures such as by issuing a stay of execution or rescinding of detention orders or permitting bail.
2. If continued physical detention is unavoidable, setting an alternative trial date as soon as possible.
3. In cases where there is no contest over the charged facts and the court is likely to render a suspended sentence, giving consideration to the fullest extent so that the physical detention of defendants will not be prolonged, including expediting trial proceedings in ways such as rendering a sentence on the first trial date, etc.
April 15, 2020
Japan Federation of Bar Associations