"Is the legal system improving?"

News that is not being covered in the Japanese press is not unusual. However, when it is news that clearly affects the public, it begs the question: Are they just being slow or are they being told to not report it?

Major news today that is being covered in the English press but not the Japanese ones is news that the innocent rates in Japan have risen to 2.9% in 2007, the highest in a decade.

On Monday, the Supreme court announced that 2.9% of defendants who pleaded not guilty when charged were found to be innocent during their first trials. Although this number looks low from the outset, considering that it was somewhere between 1.2% and 1.9% from 1998 to 2002, this is a significant increase.

There has been a huge amount of criticism leveled at the Japanese legal system, partly for the police’s treatment of arrests (including allegations of abuse, forced confessions, and even torture), partly for the lack of transparency after the arrest (including being able to keep people in police custody without a formal charge for 21 days), and partly for the “guilty until proven innocent” mind-set of the Japanese system. And considering that the lay-judge system is coming into effect in May 2009, all of the above become even more worrying with the prospect of a “non-professional judge” ruling convictions.

The Japan Times suggest that this shows that “district courts are applying a more strict assessment of evidence prior to the introduction next year of the lay judge system, in which ordinary people will take part in criminal trials along with professional judges” and for cases when confessions were disputed to be forced or where the credibility could be called to question.

But back to the original query: Why, when it is being covered by Kyodo News, The Japan Times and Japan Today, are the Japanese press not in the slight bit interested? Recently, there has been a lot in the media about the falsely accused and charged chikan (groping) defendants who have been wrapped in media sympathy for the injustice. Considering that there is an interest in that, surely this story holds just as much weight and the public have a right to know what is going on and the issues involved?

Let’s hope that it is just the media being slow and not being censored.

The Japan Times:

Kyodo News:

Japan Today:


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