Examine thorough measures to prevent defendants from fleeing

When a defendant in a criminal trial flees while out on bail, this not only interferes with the judicial process, but also causes great anxiety among residents and society. The central government must take thorough measures to prevent fleeing.

The Legislative Council has submitted a report to Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa on the outline for revising the Criminal Procedure Code and other laws to prevent defendants from jumping bail.

The report proposes that if the court determines that a defendant is likely to flee abroad, the court will be able to order the defendant to wear a GPS device to identify the person’s location.

The proposed system means that if a defendant goes to the airport or removes the device, it will be detected and the police and authorities will rush to the scene. There will also be penalties for violators, such as up to one year in prison.

After being indicted, former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn fled overseas while out on bail in 2019, shocking people in the judiciary and other circles. It is difficult to have defendants who have fled abroad stand trial in Japan. The suggested legal revision should be made as soon as possible.

The issue is how to actually use the GPS devices. The practical details, such as the selection of high performance and durable devices, the development of an accurate detection system and the securing of personnel must be worked out.

In 2019, 14,813 defendants were released on bail before the district court handed down a ruling, nearly 4,000 more people than in 2009. Also, the number of defendants whose bail was revoked for reasons such as fleeing has increased fivefold to 219.

In Kanagawa Prefecture in 2019, a man whose prison sentence had been finalized fled the scene after brandishing a knife at officials from the public prosecutors office and other officials who came to detain him. Area elementary and junior high schools were closed and events were canceled, causing chaos in the community.

A defendant who has fled causes anxiety among residents and requires a great deal of effort and cost for the manhunt. When granted bail, the defendant is supposed to submit a bail bond that will be confiscated if the defendant flees, but there is a limit to relying on this bond system.

The outline also proposed the strengthening of measures in the nation, including appointing a relative of the defendant as a “supervisor” and having that person submit a bail bond separately from the defendant as well as treating a defendant’s not appearing in court without a legitimate reason as a crime.

In Japan, it has been difficult for defendants who deny the charges to be granted bail, and this situation has been criticized in Japan and abroad as “hostage justice.” Partly due to these circumstances, the number of releases on bail has been increasing in recent years.

In the West, there are many countries that require defendants out on bail to wear GPS devices. In the future, there may possibly be growing calls to expand the scope of GPS use in Japan as well.

Operation of a newly introduced system must be thoroughly examined and, while referring to overseas examples, the aim should be for measures that have an effect.