Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura said Tuesday that his ministry will submit a bill revising the Juvenile Law to lower the age at which criminal offenders can be punished, in response to a spate of serious youth crimes.

Under the current law, juveniles are defined as people under 20 years of age, and jurisdiction over cases in which offenses have been committed by juveniles is assigned to family courts. However, juveniles 16 years or older can be tried in criminal court.

During a Cabinet meeting in the morning, Chief Cabinet Minister Hiromu Nonaka asked all members to support the bill, Nakamura told reporters.

Nakamura said he would break with usual practice and not seek the opinion of the Legislative Council, a advisory body the ministry usually consults, indicating that the proposed bill will be worked out mainly by the ministry.

Nakamura’s statement immediately drew sharp reactions from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nichibenren), which argues that the issue of lowering the eligible age for punishment should be carefully discussed.

At present, the Legislative Council is discussing a separate revision to the Juvenile Law that would allow public prosecutors to participate in juvenile trials in family court. The council is expected to present recommendations on this issue in November.

Observers said Nakamura wants to take the political initiative for revising the law by breaking away from the “tradition” of the jurist circles that put importance on the discussions in the council as well as the tripartite liaison body of the ministry, the Supreme Court and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

However, the consensus within the ministry for Nakamura’s plan is coming up short, they said.

The federation has categorically opposed the call to lower the age at which criminal offenders can be punished because it claims “only making the law tougher cannot solve the problem of teenage delinquency.”

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