Justice Ministry should ‘respect’ rulings on executions, Mori says

by Minoru Matsutani

Justice Minister Eisuke Mori supports the death penalty because it helps maintain the social order and eases the mental pain of crime victims’ families.

Though he was vague during an interview Wednesday on whether he will have death-row inmates sent to the gallows, he said he will follow in the footsteps of recent justice ministers.

His immediate predecessor, Okiharu Yasuoka, signed off on three executions even though he held the office for only about a month, and Yasuoka’s predecessor, Kunio Hatoyama, ordered 13 executions during his 12-month stint, the most hangings by a single justice minister since at least 1993.

Mori, who until now has never held a Cabinet post and effectively has no legal background, also said the optimal interval between finalization of a death sentence and execution is “in principle six months,” although it tends to be longer as defense attorneys normally file requests for retrials or pardons.

There are currently 102 inmates whose death sentences have been finalized, a Justice Ministry official said, but he declined to say how many of them have been waiting for more than six months.

“We should respect judges’ decisions” in handing down capital punishment, Mori said of part of the reason he believes the six-month interval is optimal.

He added it may be better to set up a standard rule because “it’s not advisable that the number of executions varies depending on who is justice minister.”

Seiken Sugiura, who was justice minister from October 2005 to September 2006, ordered no executions because of his devout Buddhist beliefs.

There have been discussions on introducing a new sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. Mori, however, said it would be harsh to detain people without hope of being released.

On immigration policy, Mori said the Justice Ministry, which manages the Immigration Bureau, should restrict acceptance of low-skilled labors from overseas.

Mori, who served a year as the vice minister of health, labor and welfare under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said the ministry should revise the Nationality Law as soon as possible after the Supreme Court on June 4 ruled unconstitutional a clause that had denied Japanese nationality to children of mixed race who were born and grew up in Japan.

The clause stipulates that children would be deemed Japanese only if their Japanese fathers recognize them before their birth.

The June ruling granted Japanese nationality to 10 children of Filipino mothers whose male partners recognized the babies after they were born.

Before entering politics, Mori worked for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and his research on nuclear power plants earned him a doctorate in engineering, a rare degree for a politician.

Mori, a Lower House member, is unlikely to remain justice minister for long because Prime Minister Taro Aso is widely expected to dissolve the chamber soon.

Then he will be preoccupied with getting re-elected. If the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition loses the election, there is no way he will stay in the post.