The number of lay judge trials in Japan for which interrogations of suspects have been recorded in full is increasing after police introduced new guidelines to avoid forced confessions, the National Police Agency says.
In fiscal 2016 through March 2017, a total of 2,324 lay judge trials had the possibility of referring to complete recordings of interrogations, up by 759 from a year before, the agency said.
Interrogations in criminal cases that go to lay judge trials, which represent some 3 percent of all trials in Japan, are subject to being recorded under an amended law on criminal procedure.
The amendment requires all interrogations involving lay judge trials to be recorded in their entirety by June 2019, but the agency introduced the practice ahead of schedule by setting the new guidelines in October.
In the half-year period between October and March, 1,108 court cases representing 77.4 percent of all lay judge trials could draw on complete recordings of interrogations.
Recording of interrogations for lay judge trials, which involve serious criminal cases, first started in 2008 on a trial basis in major prefectural police jurisdictions such as Tokyo and Osaka. The practice spread nationwide in 2009.
According to the agency, the average total length of audio or video recordings per trial was 25 hours and 9 minutes in the latter half of fiscal 2016, up from 23 hours and 58 minutes in the first half-year period.
Among 1,432 lay judge trials in the latter half of fiscal 2016, the number of cases that did not employ any recording at all stood at 89, of which 88 involved organized crime syndicates.
The number of cases in which interrogations were not fully recorded stood at 235 due to such reasons as suspects refusing to be recorded, malfunctioning of the recording devices and other emergency situations.
The amended law on criminal procedure mandates recordings of interrogations in all lay judge trial cases in principle so as to prevent illegal interrogation methods and ensure the credibility of confessions.
Exceptions can be made if suspects object to being recorded, devices malfunction, members of crime syndicates are involved and if the police believe suspects or suspects' families could be at risk if they are recorded.
The agency's new guidelines added another exception in the case of emergency situations in which there is an insufficient number of recording devices available when there has been a surge in arrests.
As of the end of March 2017, there were some 2,000 recording devices available for police interrogations at police departments and other locations. The agency is trying to deploy more equipment as there are around 10,000 interrogation rooms in Japan.
Concerning police interrogations of suspects with mental disabilities, recordings were made in 3,399 cases, including those involving lay judge trials.
The figure represents an increase of 2,150 from the previous year as the recording target under the new guidelines covers suspects with impaired development and psychological disorders.
Source: Japan Times, May 28, 2017
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