Ministry hedges around statute of limitations issue

Kyodo News

The Justice Ministry straddled the fence in an interim report on reviewing the statute of limitations for serious crimes and stressed that victims’ feelings and other issues must be part of the debate.

The report, issued Friday after about two months of study, also cites the pros and cons of four options for reviewing the system, including the abolishment or extension of the limitations periods.

Although limitation periods for murder and other crimes were extended in the 2005 legal revision, the ministry took up the matter again on Jan. 22 in light of growing demand from relatives of crime victims that the system be reviewed.

“We will continue holding study sessions . . . so that we can present a certain direction by around summer on how the statute of limitations on heinous and serious crimes should be,” the report said.

On whether to change the system, the report stressed the need to “fully take into account the awareness of the people, mainly victims, about the current statute of limitations system,” while referring to another point of the argument — whether it is necessary to review the Code of Criminal Procedure just years after its latest revision.

As options, the report cited abolishment of the system, extension of the statute, introduction of a system to enable prosecutors to indict suspects based on DNA evidence, even if their names are unknown, and another system that will allow prosecutors to ask courts to suspend the statute when “certain solid evidence” exists.

The abolishment of the statute for certain crimes is “concise and easy to understand,” the report noted, but at the same time, it said it is necessary to consider whether “the time frame for keeping investigators on the case or storing investigative records and material evidence can be set.”

Extending the statute “will have relatively less discrepancy with the current system” but will not completely dispel anxiety that perpetrators cannot be punished even when they are identified, the report said.

On the option of introducing a system similar to the “John Doe” DNA complaints in the United States, the report said such an indictment method is “largely different from the traditional concept of indictment” and there is “considerable difficulty” in adopting it.

The ministry is expected to further deepen its discussions.

Under the revised Code of Criminal Procedure, the statute of limitations for capital crimes, including murder, was extended to 25 years from 15 while that for robbery resulting in bodily injury was extended to 15 years from 10.