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Opinion

Japan's justice minister: Carlos Ghosn fled a fair trial

Ex-Nissan chief's criticisms of the system do not justify escape to Lebanon

| Japan
Carlos Ghosn leaves detention in Tokyo in April 2019. Japan's justice minister notes that prosecutors only indict criminal cases with sufficient evidence -- 37% in 2018. (Photo by Taro Yokosawa)

From Masako Mori, Japan's justice minister

Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan Motor who fled Japan for Lebanon at the end of December, is criticizing the Japanese criminal justice system in an attempt to justify his decision to jump bail. Some media organizations have expressed sympathy toward his stance. But if Ghosn has an argument to make, we strongly call on him to make it under the fair criminal procedures of Japan and seek justice in court.

The Japanese criminal justice system is designed to pursue the truth of each case while guaranteeing individuals' human rights. It is operated in an appropriate manner.

Here, I will emphasize three points about the system.

1. Article 14 of the Constitution of Japan guarantees equality under the law for all people. There is no legal distinction between Japanese and foreign nationals, and foreign nationals receive no discriminatory treatment in the Japanese criminal procedure. Whoever the suspect or defendant may be, the judge makes decisions from a fair and neutral standpoint.

Decisions on whether to allow defendants who are granted bail to meet with their family members as a condition for granting bail depend on whether there is a risk of evidence being concealed or destroyed, among other factors, in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Regardless of whether the defendant is a Japanese or foreign national, it is not true that meeting family members while on bail is prohibited under any circumstances.

When suspects or defendants who do not speak Japanese are questioned or stand trial, interpreters are available to address any language barriers.

2. On the issue of whether lawyers are allowed to be present during questioning, it is necessary to discuss the balance of the entire system of criminal justice enforcement. In Japan, an arrest without a warrant is permitted only in exceptional cases. Likewise, investigation methods such as wiretapping and undercover operations are permitted only under limited circumstances, compared with countries like the U.K., U.S. and France. So we must consider how various aspects of Japan's system are balanced when deciding whether to allow the presence of lawyers during the questioning process, which plays a crucial role in finding the truth of each case.

3. As for criticism of Japan's high conviction rate, it is important to take into consideration Japan's careful approach to indicting suspects. The conviction rate represents the proportion among only indicted cases, not among all criminal cases referred to prosecutors. Japanese prosecutors brought indictments in only 37% of all criminal cases referred to them in 2018, for example. To avoid imposing an undue burden on innocent people by involving them in a trial, prosecutors bring an indictment only if there is a high probability of obtaining a conviction based on sufficient evidence. I would like people outside Japan to understand that this approach is a significant factor behind the high conviction rate.

Of course, no country's criminal justice procedures remain perfect as we move from one era to another. While I, as the minister of justice, am fully ready to carry out reforms as necessary, I believe that the Japanese criminal justice system is fair and adapted to the times.

Masako Mori is Japan's justice minister.

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