The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office (SPPO) issued a report on audio and visual recording of interrogations last week (on July 4th, JST).
As I posted earlier, the SPPO started recording some interrogations on an experimental basis in 2006. Last week’s report focused on the experimental recording in three Special Investigation Units and ten Special Crime Devision Public Prosecutor’s Office, which took place in 91 cases from March 2011 through April 2012 (note that these offices or branches in the Public Prosecutor’s Office usually involve only white collar crimes). The report revealed what the prosecutors in Japan have to say about the recording of interrogations.
Below are the points worth noting:
1) Interrogations in 91 cases out of 98 were either partially or entirely recorded. The entire interrogation process was recorded in 39 cases. 30 of the cases concerned tax violations.
2) In seven cases, the suspects refused the recording from the beginning of interrogations. In 12 cases, the suspects refused the recording halfway through. The reasons for their refusal include: they were ashamed of being arrested and incarcerated, and they did not want to provide discussions in front of the camera.
3) Recording took place in other prosecutor’s offices in 946 cases out of 1,005 cases, where the charge was a serious offense and the case was to be disposed of by a Lay Judge trial, such as murder. In cases involving persons with intellectual disabilities, 540 cases were recorded (this was all of the cases in this category except where the accused refused).
4) Positive effects of recording include: interrogations became fairer than before, the attitudes of the suspects were video-recorded (which would not have appeared on a written dossier), and the recording was useful in proving unnatural transition in statements of suspects.
5) However, in some cases, the prosecutors felt that the recording of interrogation caused much problems, because it prevented them from getting confessions from suspects. The suspects were concerned about the privacy of themselves or others. It was also reported that it prevented the interrogators from vigorously pursuing to obtain confessions.
6) The report also stated that the SPPO will continue the discussion about recording interrogation of juvenile suspects.
Of course, recording interrogation is not the ultimate solution to all the problems that the interrogations in Japan carries. As I have described before, the law and practice of interrogations should go through other changes as well, including changes in the length and place of pre-charge detention, reliance on confessions during trials and so forth.
Having said that, the report can be called a progress (since SPPO has traditionally been extremely resistant to recording any interrogations), though not a major one. In order to better the system, further improvements should be taken.
First, the SPPO is only recording a fraction of the interrogations they conduct. A majority of interrogations are still not recorded, not even partially. The SPPO is even “undecided” about whether to record interrogations in juvenile cases. It should consider recording the entire interrogations in all cases.
Second, it is concerning that the SPPO is still thinking the recording would hinder them from getting confessions (= finding out the “truth“). It reflects the idea that getting confessions is still a critical job of the prosecutors, and the fact that there is still reliance on confessions as an important evidence at trial.
And finally, the report was written by an internal group of the SPPO. This is problematic. The SPPO should bring in scholars, criminal defense attorneys and former suspects who experienced the interrogations, and conduct a true “reform”.
*Read the comment by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations on this report here (in Japanese).
**The Japan Bar Association issued briefs to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General in May of this year. Read the briefs here (in Japanese).