Correspondent SG reminded me yesterday that Ozawa Ichiro's case is not the only criminal case that has been or is the process of being brought to the courts via a Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution -- the Orwellian-sounding citizens councils seeking indictments in incidents where the local prosecutors claim there is no case. Indeed a number of infamous incidents are in the process of being picked over by private lawyers hired by the courts, including:
- The Akashi Pedestrian Bridge Incident - where a crush of people, on there way to view a waterside fireworks display, lurched forward and fell down in a mass on the staircase of a pedestrian overpass, leading to the asphyxiation deaths of 11 persons, mostly children. On trial is the Deputy Chief of Police of Akashi, as the police were providing security for the event. A judgment in the case is expected in November.
- The Amagasaki JR Derailment - the most serious and idiotic rail accident of the last 40 years, resulting in the deaths of 106 persons and the maimings of many, many more. While the obvious culprit was the incompetent train engineer, who had a record of poor performance and sent his train hurtling off the tracks by taking a curve at excessive speed, this in order to make up for time he had lost in overshooting the platform at a previous stop, families of the dead and injured have been trying for a decade to pin the blame on senior JR West executives. The trial of the three past presidents of JR West for dereliction of duty leading to death begins in July.
- The Chinese Fishing Trawler Collision Incident - when a Chinese fishing boat rammed two Japanese Coast Guard vessels in the waters off the Senkaku Islands in September, 2010, the JCG detained the crew of the Chinese vessel, arresting the captain on charges of interfering with the activities of government personnel carrying out their duties. Other than the captain, the crew of the ship were returned to China. The case of the captain, hwoever,was remanded to the Nago District Court. After the Chinese government, both directly and indirectly, ratched the pressure on Japan, the Nago Court released the captain, on the bizarre grounds of his arrest being a matter of foreign policy, not law. Since the case had been remanded to the prosecutors, however, it left open the door for interested parties to pursue the original arrest through a Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution, which interested parties did. Without much of a fuss, an Okinawa Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution issued an indictment of the Chinese captain in March, with no trial date set.
It is difficult to approve of the actions taken by the Committees in the first two cases. These should be civil suits for damages, not criminal indictments for negligence and dereliction of duty. The persons being tried have only distant connections to the accidents, heinous as they were.
However, it is hard not give three cheers for Committee in Okinawa. The grotesque intrusion of politics into a legal proceeding, which the government promised it would not to do, no matter what the Chinese did, then reversed itself and did, then denied that it had done -- demolished the credibility of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and the Democratic Party of Japan. That the Svengali pressuring the Nago Prosecutors Office to release the captain was Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was an open secret. His machinations earned him a well-deserved censuring by the House of Councillors, with Mabuchi Sumio, the minister in charge of the Coast Guard, getting censured in what amounted to collateral damage from the chastisement of Sengoku.
It is possible to read too much into the effect the indictment of the Chinese captain will have on Sino-Japanese relations. It will certainly be an irritant to the Chinese. The Japanese government will not pursue the captain, except perhaps by putting his name on a list of international fugitives at Interpol. Even if the courts allow the captain's being convicted in absentia, which he would be, given the video evidence of the collisions, neither government has any incentive to bring the matter up in bilateral negotiations -- so they will not.
Whether Japanese right wingers will transform the captain's indictment into one of their cause célèbres remains an open question. They have already so many different items on their plates...
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