House clears crime-victim legislation

The House of Representatives approved a package of bills Friday to protect the rights of crime victims.

The set of three bills, which will grant victims the right to testify in court and to read trial records, cleared the Lower House with a unanimous vote and was immediately sent to the House of Councilors.

The approval of the Lower House comes only a month after the government submitted the three bills to the Diet. on March 17.

The bills were drafted after an advisory panel to Justice Minister Hideo Usui recommended in February that legal steps be taken to protect crime victims’ rights.

The government then drafted amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law and the Law on the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution and drew up a new law.

The move follows public criticism of the handling of complaints by people victimized by crimes. Families of crime victims are currently not allowed to file claims with the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, which reviews prosecutors’ decisions about whether to issue indictments. The proposed amendments now allow them to do so.

The change was requested by, among others, the family of Shun Katayama, an elementary schoolboy killed in a traffic accident in 1997.

The proposed legislation would also introduce a video monitoring system to enable victims of rape, child pornography and other sex crimes to give their testimony in a private room rather than before the judge.

This takes into account the additional pain they would suffer if they had to testify in court. Rape victims often refer to court appearances as “a second rape.”

Sex crime victims are currently required to file complaints with law enforcement authorities within six months of the crime, but the legislation abolishes the time limit because six months is regarded as being too short for some victims to overcome the mental and emotional distress.

The bills also propose the introduction of a system to forcibly seize the property of defendants if they fail to pay compensation to victims despite promises to pay.

Some defendants pledge to pay damages during their trial in an apparent effort to gain a lenient sentence but then fail to make payments after the trial.

Victims’ rights groups say the government’s steps are “minimal” compared with those in the United States, and are calling on the government to take more drastic measures, such as providing compensation to victims.