Harper calls for Japanese reforms

THE JAPANESE criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul, according to the leader of the international barristers' group.

Professor Ross Harper, president of the International Bar Association (IBA), is putting pressure on Japan to reform custody procedures which he says contravene the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The professor has recently returned from a mission to Japan to follow up last year's report on the country's pre-indictment custody system undertaken by Nick Cowdery QC, who also went on this visit.

Under the daiyo kangoku system, suspects are placed in police custody before indictment and can be held for up to 23 days without being formally charged.

Conviction rates are 99.9 per cent, of which 95 per cent are based on signed confessions. But the IBA says this is not necessarily the sign of a good system.

Harper and Cowdery made representations to the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice along with several other executive and political bodies.

They called for the abolition of the daiyo kangoku system and the enshrinement of rights of bail, silence and access to legal representation in the legal system. They said all dealings with detainees should be recorded and produced in court and confessions tested more thoroughly to ensure they are voluntary.

Responses to their mission, however, were not encouraging. Officials said ministers and police were “extremely happy” with the system and denied it was being abused.

They said it was important prosecutions were successful because they could be sued for damages if they failed and the shame of being accused even if subsequently acquitted made it important for the charges to be watertight.

Harper says: “Confessions are obtained in daiyo kangoku during up to 23 days of detention. Any confession obtained in such circumstances is at best tainted and may be false. That is why safeguards against prolonged questioning are so vital and internationally enforced.”

A full report, taking in Japan's responses to the mission, will be published shortly.