On 9 June 2006, the Minister of Justice announced that the interrogations by prosecutors will be partially recorded and videotaped, on a trial basis, in the cases to which the Saiban-in (lay judges) system would be applied in the future.
As a result of the enactment of the Law Concerning Criminal Trials Involving Saiban-ins in 2004, the Saiban-in system, in which individuals selected from the general public decide on particular cases together with professional judges, is to be introduced within five years after promulgation. The system aims to promote people's participation in judicial proceedings and to make the justice system more efficient and citizen-friendly. It will be applied to serious criminal cases including those where maximum penalty is capital punishment or indefinite imprisonment with/without hard labor. In principle, six saiban-ins will be selected on a case-by-case basis by lot from the list, which will be prepared annually through random selection on the basis of rolls of voters; they will participate in court proceedings with three professional judges for deliberations and judgments.
In order to prepare for the involvement of non-lawyers, measures have already been taken, for example, for the acceleration of court proceedings, including through pre-trial procedures for the clarification of points of issues. The introduction of partial recording and videotaping of the interrogations by prosecutors is part of the efforts. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has indicated, in its Tentative Proposals for the Organization of Investigations and Trials under the Saiban-in System , the need to achieve readily understandable, speedy and accurate arguments and proof. In this context, the Office stated, it was necessary to consider specific measures to prevent any doubts that confessions of the accused might have been made under duress and to ensure, when such doubts arise, that their voluntary nature can be proved. As one of such measures, it was decided to try recording and videotaping of the interrogations by prosecutors, when they find it necessary to prove the voluntary nature of the affidavits and to the degree that they consider reasonable.
In order to prevent confessions under duress and other abuses during the interrogations behind the door, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) and other organizations have pointed out the need to ensure visibility of the interrogations through recording and videotaping. The Human Rights Committee also recommended such measures in its concluding observations on Japan's periodic report in November 1998, stating, "In order to exclude the possibility that confessions are extracted under duress, the Committee strongly recommends that the interrogation of the suspect in police custody or substitute prisons be strictly monitored, and recorded by electronic means".
While welcoming the announcement, the JFBA points out remaining problems, including that only parts of the interrogations by prosecutors are to be made visible and that the interrogations by the police are outside the scope of the new measure.
· Summary of the press conference of the Minister of Justice (9 May 2006) (Japanese)
· Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, Tentative Proposals for the Organization of Investigations and Trials under the Saiban-in System
· Concluding observations on Japan adopted by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/79/Add.102.)
· Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), "JFBA's comment on the statement of the Minister of Justice on the recording and videotaping of the interrogations on a trial basis" (9 May 2006) (Japanese)
For further information on the Saiban-in system, see: http://www.moj.go.jp/ENGLISH/issues/justice_system_reform-6.pdf