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Justice Minister Isao Matsuura expressed displeasure August 5 over ongoing public debate on revising the Juvenile Law, saying it focuses too much on whether lawbreakers under age 16 should be subject to criminal punishment.

At a regular news conference at the ministry, Matsuura said such discussions should not focus only on whether to lower the minimum age for criminal punishment from 16 to 14. By law, youths between age 14 and 19 can be held responsible for committing crimes, but those under 16 are exempt from criminal proceedings, and the cases are handled in family courts without the presence of prosecutors.

Cases involving suspects age 16 or older are also handled in family courts, but the courts can transfer the cases back to prosecutors if the crimes are deemed significantly heinous. The boy in custody over two child slayings and three assaults on other children in Kobe’s Suma Ward was 14 years old when the crimes for which he stands accused were committed. Matsuura also confirmed that he authorized the executions of four death-row inmates recently, but refused to name them or specify the execution dates.

Norio Nagayama, 48, and three other death-row convicts were executed August 1, earlier reports said, based on information from sources. Nagayama’s hanging has raised questions over the ministry’s stance on the ongoing Juvenile Law controversy because he was a minor when he committed four murders.

But Matsuura flatly denied any link between the debate over the law’s revision and the execution order. “The Kobe incident has nothing to do with the executions,” he said. “It is immature to link the two while facts about the Kobe case are not (fully) revealed.”

In confirming the executions, he said: “I hate to tell a lie. I think it is only ethical to answer, if asked, whether I signed the papers.” It had been a longtime policy of the ministry that executions are neither confirmed nor denied.

Matsuura changed the custom in December, when he confirmed that three convicted murderers had been hanged.

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