"Prosecutorial reform must be carried out at the initiative of the prosecutors, but outside opinions, however harsh, should be considered with wholehearted sincerity.
"An expert panel, established in the wake of a series of irregularities involving a special squad of prosecutors at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office, has compiled a report listing recommendations and handed it to Justice Minister Satsuki Eda.
"In examining how prosecutors should carry out their duties, the panel called on the judicial and prosecutorial authorities to conduct a sweeping review of their functions, ranging from organization to investigative methods.
"In 2009, the prosecutors arrested and indicted Atsuko Muraki, a former director general with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, in connection with a postal discount abuse scandal, although she was innocent. The prosecutor in charge of the postal abuse case tampered with evidence, and his misconduct was allegedly covered up by his superiors. The incident revealed structural faults within the prosecutorial system.
"The special squad of prosecutors ignored their mission of "elucidating the truth based on law and justice" out of a desire to establish a case against a senior bureaucrat of a central government office. They resorted to coercive investigation methods repeatedly, such as trying to obtain depositions that fit their storylines.
"Senior prosecutors of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office as well as the Osaka High Public Prosecutors Office and the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office approved the arrest and indictment of Muraki without recognizing how thin their case was.
"Monitoring function required
"It was natural for the panel to place priority on bolstering the functions needed to monitor the investigation process.
"To improve transparency, it proposed the establishment of a system in which outsiders would be encouraged to offer advice and a department to accept and deal with complaints about interrogations.
"The panel also proposed transferring the right to indict to prosecutors not belonging to a special investigation squad. Up to now, cases undertaken by a special squad are conducted under the guidance of the lead prosecutor. As a result, evidence is often not given the thorough assessment it should receive.
"Based on the panel's recommendations, the judicial and prosecutorial authorities must carry out drastic reforms as quickly as possible.
"Prosecutors must ensure their investigations bring perpetrators to justice, and that the rights of suspects and defendants are protected.
"Audio and visual recordings of closed-door interrogations are effective methods to prevent false charges. But police and prosecutors are concerned that recording all questions and answers during the interrogation process will make it more difficult to arrive at the truth.
"To what degree could such recordings be permitted so as not to affect investigations? We suggest the prosecutors carry them out on a trial basis in various cases involving special investigation squads.
"Don't depend on depositions
"The excessive emphasis placed on depositions in investigations and trials also should be examined. It is important to look into methods of investigation to establish cases that do not necessarily depend on depositions.
"A plea bargain system exists in some countries under which punishment is reduced if a defendant admits a charge. It is unclear whether Japanese society would accept such a system.
"The panel proposed the establishment of a forum to discuss such institutional reforms as well as legislative preparations for the adoption of audio and visual recordings of interrogations.
"We hope the judicial and prosecutorial authorities discuss reforms from a wide perspective while listening to the voice of the people."
By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 4/5/2011), Link to article (last visited 4/6/2011)