Laptop dispute pits Carlos Ghosn’s lawyer against Japan’s justice system

ft.com -- Oct 07
An impassioned dispute over the access to less than a yen’s worth of electricity has pitched Carlos Ghosn’s former defence lawyer into a landmark constitutional clash with Japan’s justice system.

Takashi Takano said the legal battle symbolised Japan’s “crazy” prejudice against defence teams.

The spat began in a Yokohama courtroom in September when the presiding judge in a pre-trial hearing on a drugs smuggling case barred Takano from plugging his laptop into the room’s electricity socket.

The judge said the power belonged to the Japanese state and Takano, in acting for his client, was there in a private capacity. Takano protested, but to no avail, and has appealed to the High Court.

The judge’s socket prohibition, argued Takano, violated Japan’s constitutional guarantee of a citizen’s right to assistance by competent counsel — a clause that closely echoes the language of the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution.

In the modern world, said Takano, a laptop was an essential part of a defence lawyer’s equipment and so the right to use it, with a cable if necessary, was protected.

But Takano’s argument takes the negative implications of the judge’s electricity ban even further. Defence lawyers, he said, should not be seen by the courts as acting in a wholly private capacity, but as a necessary part of the entire judicial system.

The fact that the judge made the distinction, he said, revealed a mindset that underpinned significant imbalances in a system weighed against defendants. Prosecutors, for example, are not obliged to share the full body of evidence with the defence.