New Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka believes most Japanese approve of capital punishment because, he said, the country has a cultural background in which death is considered “gracious” for criminals.
“Capital punishment should continue to exist because we should respect people’s sentiment that (the most heinous crimes) have to be compensated for only by death,” Yasuoka, who was appointed to the post Aug. 1, told a group of journalists in his office Thursday.
Yasuoka’s stance suggests that the number of hangings may remain high: Yasuoka’s predecessor, Kunio Hatoyama, signed 13 execution orders, the most by a single justice minister at least since 1993, during his 12 months in the post.
As the head of the ministry that manages the Immigration Bureau, he said the foreign trainee system, which some employers have been accused of abusing by hiring cheap labor illegally, should be improved, adding he doesn’t know yet whether the system should be abolished or revised.
Yasuoka declined to comment on a proposal to increase the number of immigrants to 10 million in 50 years, submitted by a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers led by former LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, saying he has not read the plan thoroughly.
In response to public opinion polls indicating many people are concerned about the lay judge system that will start next May, Yasuoka said he will continue to raise awareness of its social significance and try to eliminate public concern.
“What the system does is democratize the judicial system, which is really important. Many developed countries have similar systems,” Yasuoka said.
He added he is satisfied with the ministry’s efforts to inform the public of the new system.
“It’s unexpectedly good that 94 percent of people know about the system and 60 percent will become lay judges, equivalent to jurors in the United States, reluctantly or willingly,” he said.
On discussions of whether a new sentence — life in prison with no possibility of parole — should be added to the judicial system, Yasuoka said such a move is unnecessary. “Being in prison forever is too harsh,” he said.
Many legal experts are arguing that such a sentence is needed to fill a gap between the death penalty and life with a chance for parole. They argue that the difference between these two sentences is too wide for lay judges to decide the appropriate punishment.