The Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council on Thursday proposed that prosecutors be conditionally allowed to attend family court hearings in serious juvenile crimes.
In the report, submitted to Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura, the council also proposed that three judges per case be allowed in juvenile trials instead of one, as under the current system.
The council endorsed a draft report on changing hearing procedures compiled by the Juvenile Law Committee, a subgroup of the council, in December. A member of the council who is backed by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which opposes the proposed revisions, criticized Thursday’s proposal package as not in the interest of juveniles and voted against the changes at the day’s meeting.
The ministry plans to submit a bill based on the report to the current Diet session in order to revise the Juvenile Law. The move will likely lead to the first major review of the law since it was enacted in 1948.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has said it wants to lower the minimum age at which criminal offenders can be punished from 16 years to 14 years. In contrast, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party are opposed to amending the Juvenile Law, while neither the Democratic Party of Japan nor New Komeito have taken a specific position on the issue.
However, the LDP is willing to give priority to Diet deliberations for enacting procedural changes in the law before tackling the matter of age, sources close to the matter said.
Thursday’s planned revision would allow prosecutors to attend trials in which the defendant would have faced the death penalty, life imprisonment or a prison sentence of more than three years if he or she had been an adult, or in cases where a victim has died.
Prosecutors attending a trial should also be allowed to raise objections about a juvenile court judgment on points of law and evidence and make an appeal to a senior court, the report says.
To counterbalance the presence of prosecutors in a juvenile trial, the report proposes that family courts should also be allowed to appoint aides to defense lawyers.
Procedures similar to a retrial should be introduced to protect juvenile rights, the report says, although same-case re-examinations will continue to be prohibited.