Caught between Hope and Despair: An Analysis of the Japanese Criminal Justice System

Article excerpt


While handcuffed, shackled, forced to excrete in their own clothes, personally bathed by the warden, sleep deprived, food deprived, bribed with cigarettes or food, and, in some cases, "accidentally" killed, a suspect in Japan is interrogated and the world is beginning to acknowledge that such procedures amount to a violation of human rights. (1) Adopted December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first international statement to use the term "human rights" and to recognize the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest, as well as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. (2) Although the International community has concluded that suspects (3) should be commonly afforded particular rights, there are many disparities from country to country as to what rights are actually guaranteed. (4) Overall, industrialized nations afford more rights than do developing countries, with one exception. (5) Japan, unlike most industrialized nations, does not afford many of the same rights that Americans take for granted such as the rights to bail, to remain silent, and to counsel. (6) In fact, the Japanese legal system has come under grave attack by many human rights activists, including Amnesty International. (7) Although the Japanese criminal justice system still needs serious reform to provide greater protection to its accused, Japan should nevertheless also be lauded for its efforts thus far. Many activists often overlook the strides Japan has made toward reformation when demeaning Japan for the abundant abuse found within its criminal justice system. Furthermore, any analysis of the Japanese criminal justice system should consider the unique culture of Japan. (8) Imposing American or Western standards on the Japanese system would be futile because Japanese and Western cultures sharply conflict. If any reformation is to take place, it must fit within the Japanese culture and way of life.

The foregoing analysis is a study of the Japanese criminal justice system and the rights of suspects and the accused. The main focus of the analysis is centered on the lack of rights afforded suspects in Japan and the resulting human rights violations found within the Japanese criminal justice system. Part II explores the history of Japan and the development of Japanese law. Although Western culture has greatly influenced the Japanese legal system, Japan has developed a unique criminal justice system based on its unique culture. Part III analyzes the Japanese legal system as well as the rights afforded its criminal suspects. As a point of comparison, Japan is then compared to the American system and the rights afforded suspects in America. While Part IV is an appraisal of the Japanese system, Part V considers the rights of suspects and the accused in the International arena as well as the International reaction to the Japanese system. Part V also considers the founding of the International Criminal Court and how it may affect the recognition of acceptable practices. The International Criminal Court is the only international tribunal in which criminal procedures have been adopted. (9) Therefore, it is the only international tribunal that may be even remotely compared to an individual nation's criminal justice system. Part VI looks to the future of human rights and the impact of International pressures as well as the development of the International Criminal Court on the Japanese criminal justice system. Part VII calls for reformation of the Japanese criminal justice system. Although Japan has already begun some reform, further rectification is needed. In addition, any reformation must fit into the Japanese way of life. Finally, conclusions are drawn in Part VIII regarding the effectiveness of the Japanese legal system and the future of human rights in Japan.

Legal History

Scholars believe Japan has had some sort of a judicial system in place since the fourth century, but Japan's modern legal history consists of three main eras, which commence in the 17th century. …