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2013年2月22日 (金)

明石歩道橋事故 強制起訴の課題示す免訴判決

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 22, 2013)
Ruling highlights problems in mandatory indictment system
明石歩道橋事故 強制起訴の課題示す免訴判決(2月21日付・読売社説)

It was a bitter pill for relatives of the victims in the July 2001 crush incident in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, who sought criminal responsibility for a former police officer in charge of crowd control at a fireworks show.

The Kobe District Court on Wednesday dismissed a case in which a former deputy chief at the Akashi Police Station was indicted over failing to prevent the fatal accident on a pedestrian overpass that killed 11 people. A prosecution inquest committee had decided on the mandatory indictment in this case.

The ruling effectively acquitted the defendant by ending the trial.

Based on the decision by the prosecution inquest committee, the former deputy chief was indicted on suspicion of professional negligence causing injury and death over the accident, as he allegedly shared complicity with a former officer at the station who was directly responsible for crowd control. The latter received a prison sentence.

This was the first case in which the mandatory indictment system was applied since its introduction in 2009.

The ruling concluded the five-year statute of limitations had expired by the time of the mandatory indictment in April 2010. The court apparently had no other choice but to dismiss the case as it found the statute of limitations had run out.


Questions on statute of limitations

Court-appointed lawyers who served as prosecutors insisted the statute of limitations had not expired, citing the fact that the former officer--with whom they said the former deputy chief was complicit--was on trial at that time, and the Criminal Procedure Code that stipulates the period is interrupted during the trial of an accomplice.

Wednesday's ruling, however, denied the former deputy chief's fault. "He did not get any request from officers working at the scene to prevent more people coming onto the overpass," the ruling said. "It was also difficult for him to assess the danger by watching security cameras at the station."

The ruling also concluded that the former deputy chief was not complicit with his subordinate because he did not bear any fault, thus acknowledging the statute of limitations had run out in this case.

Even if the former deputy chief escapes criminal responsibility, however, the police were obviously at fault over their security and safety measures for the fireworks display, given the accident's serious casualties.

The ruling also pointed out that the police had an inadequate security plan for the event, saying, "The use of authority by the deputy chief--who was supposed to assist the chief of the police station--was insufficient."

After the fatal crush, the National Police Agency told prefectural police to appoint officers to oversee crowd control measures. It is most important to take every possible measure to prevent the recurrence of a similar accident.

There have been seven mandatory indictment cases nationwide, and Wednesday's ruling was the fourth handed down by a district court. So far, only one guilty sentence has been given in a case involving the mayor of Ishii, Tokushima Prefecture.


Excessive burden on lawyers

These cases, including the former deputy chief's one, have revealed one problem in the mandatory indictment system--the excessive burdens on court-appointed lawyers.

It is not easy for them to gather the evidence necessary to win a guilty sentence in cases prosecutors decided to drop.

Therefore, it may be worthwhile to study creating a framework under which assistant officers for prosecutors can help court-appointed lawyers in examining evidence and other related work.

It is important to provide legal advice to members of prosecution inquest committees, who are selected from members of the public. This becomes more important when they deal with cases like the former deputy chief's, in which the focus was put on whether the statute of limitations had expired by the time of indictment.

In this sense, one lawyer is not enough to serve as an assistant to a prosecution inquest committee.

To help the mandatory indictment system take root, it is crucial to review trials of relevant cases and improve flaws in the system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2013)
(2013年2月21日02時00分  読売新聞)


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