New justice minister urges changes to Juvenile Law

by Setsuko Kamiya

With the recent spate of serious crimes committed by minors heightening concerns about juvenile issues, revisions to the Juvenile Law are necessary and must be completed as early as possible, newly appointed Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka said.

A bill to revise the Juvenile Law, which is designed to rehabilitate juveniles who commit crimes or appear to be headed for trouble, was scrapped in June when the Lower House was dissolved, due to a lack of time to fully discuss the issue.

Yasuoka, 61, who is also a practicing lawyer, said the bill should be submitted to the extraordinary Diet session at the earliest, although thorough deliberation is necessary first.

The Lower House Judicial Committee pledged to continue discussing the revisions while maintaining the principle that the Juvenile Law aims to re-educate troubled youth.

In addition, a Liberal Democratic Party panel proposed increasing the minimum prison time for youths found guilty of crimes that would merit the death penalty if committed by adults. It also suggested that juvenile offenders be held criminally liable from the age of 14, lowering the age by two years under the current law.

Yasuoka, who also heads the LDP’s panel on judicial reform, said he will make an effort to cooperate with the Judicial Reform Council to deepen their discussions.

The council, an advisory panel to the Cabinet, began two years of discussions last July to revise the judicial system to be more streamlined and accessible to citizens.

The council has been discussing such issues as increasing the number of legal professionals, establishing law schools and the possibility of lay participation in trials, such as a jury system or mixed courts, in which judges and citizens decide cases together.

“As a representative of the citizens,” Yasuoka said, “I have spent a long time considering what sort of reform is necessary (for the judicial system).” The new minister also expressed hope that the LDP reform panel’s proposals, which were announced in May and back a mixed court system, will be reflected in the council’s discussions.

“There are also other opinions on the issue from many fields, and I hope the council will take them into consideration as well,” he said.

On the question of capital punishment, Yasuoka said he has to be careful and impartial in handling the issue, given its gravity. At the same time, Yasuoka added, he must also take into consideration that there are citizens who support the death penalty.

On immigration, Yasuoka said reduced restrictions are necessary for foreigners to reside in Japan. “As more foreigners are coming to Japan, I think it is important for their knowledge and ideas to be used here. Their cooperation will be valuable to society’s development.”

However, when questioned about the recent Supreme Court decision that upheld a high court decision to detain an overstaying Nepalese man for appeals procedures despite his acquittal of murder charges by a lower court, Yasuoka declined to comment, saying he was not up to speed on the case.

Yasuoka, who received a portfolio for the first time in 27 years in the Diet, is the first lawyer-turned-lawmaker in 22 years to serve as justice minister.

“Since I am also a legal professional, I’ve always wanted to sit in this position, and I believe this is my vocation and destiny,” Yasuoka said at his first meeting with ministry officials last week.

Having also served as a judge for a year before becoming a lawmaker, Yasuoka told The Japan Times that his experience and knowledge of the law is an advantage in his political career.

“Being able to carry out my job with my legal knowledge will be useful,” he said. “But to continue to do so, I think you need to have the ability to understand the true nature of society and people.”