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Editorial: Japan's new top prosecutor must restore public trust amid independence doubts

The office of Japan's prosecutor-general, the top prosecutor in the land, has been handed from Nobuo Inada to Makoto Hayashi, most recently the head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office. It is his duty to restore the Japanese people's confidence in prosecutors' offices.

The service has been in a state of constant disruption for some six months, since former chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office Hiromu Kurokawa was granted an unprecedented retirement age extension by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. That same government then proposed amendments to the Public Prosecutor's Office Act that raised the specter of ruling administrations meddling in prosecutorial personnel affairs.

The amendment bill met with a torrent of public opposition so fierce that the Abe administration withdrew it. This was followed quickly upon by Kurokawa himself getting caught gambling on Mahjong, compelling him to resign. All this generated questions about prosecutors' political neutrality, and plummeting public trust in the office.

And while the Abe administration's will was certainly the driving force behind all these developments, we must point out that the prosecutors' office too bears responsibility for inviting this chaos.

Inada and other senior prosecutors accepted Kurokawa's one-of-a-kind retirement age extension. Furthermore, Justice Ministry bureaucrats who are also prosecutors participated in the legal reinterpretation paving the way for this extension, and in the drafting of the Public Prosecutor's Office Act revision bill.

The details of these processes have not been revealed to the public. However, there was an outcry over the moves from some prosecutors as well. Nevertheless, when asked about the events at his retirement news conference, Inada dodged the question.

Another factor that has people questioning if prosecutors are truly operating at arm's length from political concerns is the attitude of prosecutors who have failed to explain the outcome of recent investigations related to politicians. For example, in the end no one involved in either former economic revitalization minister Akira Amari's cash gifts scandal or the falsifying of Finance Ministry documents over the cut-rate sale of state land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen was indicted. And no explanation for this of any potency was ever offered by prosecutors.

Prosecutors are expected to uncover the truth on behalf of the public interest. If a person is not prosecuted, then a well-grounded explanation for that is needed.

There are also numerous problems with the conduct of investigations and public trials. From inquiries built on stories, to the lengthy detention of defendants claiming their innocence, to a half-hearted attitude to revealing evidence -- all these things have been pointed out before, and are still being pointed out today.

Prosecutors have the power to investigate crimes, and the nearly exclusive power to indict. They should preserve their independence, but they cannot be allowed to become self-righteous. Their powers must be applied in a rigorously fair manner.

At the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, Makoto Hayashi pushed forward prosecutorial reforms in the wake of an evidence fabrication scandal at the Osaka district office. In the final report on "the ideals of prosecutors," public trust is given as a foundation stone.

At the incoming prosecutor-general's introductory press conference, he stated, "The prosecutors' office should be always returning to our steady ideals and striving to make them a reality." We call on Hayashi to show leadership, to implement these ideals across the entire organization.

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