The Japan Federation of Bar Associations adopted a set of proposals on Juvenile Law reform Friday by formally endorsing a new juvenile justice system that would permit prosecutors’ presence in juvenile trials under certain conditions.
The bar federation’s executives approved a report recommending the revisions to the 49-year-old law as a counterproposal to revamp suggestions by the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry.
The group’s proposals include giving juvenile suspects an option to choose between two systems: the current system, which does not include prosecutors in the proceedings, and one that would allow prosecutors to participate only if the accused youths prefer it and if they are guaranteed due process by such means as a right to counter-argue and stricter rules for adopting evidence against the youths.
In particular, the group cites recording police interrogations on video or cassette tapes as one of the conditions for introducing prosecutors in juvenile hearings.
Currently, all investigation records by police are turned over to judges at family courts, which handle juvenile cases, before the trials begin. Therefore, the judges are inclined to presume the accused minors guilty from the outset, the group officials argue.
Making investigation records visible and accessible to juvenile defendants’ lawyers will prevent the youths from being coerced to confess, said the federation officials, adding that prosecutors should not be given access to juvenile trials unless this condition is met.
The bar group also endorsed increasing the detention period for youth suspects from the current four weeks to eight weeks in case they choose to let prosecutors participate, so that their rights to dispute the prosecutors’ arguments are guaranteed.
The federation’s report is seen to affect the proceedings of the Juvenile Law Committee within the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister that was asked to deliberate on the law’s reform earlier this month.
But it is uncertain how many of the bar group’s proposals, which were adopted after months of heated debate within the group, will be reflected in the committee’s conclusion.
The council’s deliberation is limited to improving the fact-finding procedures of the juvenile trials and making it easier to discover whether youth suspects committed crimes for which they are accused.
The council’s debate will not touch on whether the age at which youths are subject to criminal punishment should be lowered from the current 16 to 14 — another point of contention among the public and the judicial authorities.
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