A group of ruling party lawmakers is planning to submit a bill that would revise the Juvenile Law and reduce the age of juveniles who can be treated as criminally liable to the age of 14 from the current 16, it was learned Saturday.
Several lawmakers from the ruling coalition’s project team on revising the law said a bill will be presented in the next extraordinary Diet session, scheduled to be held in the autumn.
The legislators said they intend to introduce the bill as it could be a long time before the government is able to draft a bill, since the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council would have to deliberate the issue first.
“If we leave it up to the Legislative Council, we don’t know when we’ll get results,” one member of the group said. Deliberations by the council would take a minimum of several months.
New Komeito, which had been wary about lowering the age of criminal responsibility, is expected to support the Liberal Democratic Party in drawing up the bill.
The Juvenile Law states that family courts can send serious cases, such as murder, to prosecutors for criminal proceedings. However, it stipulates the condition that cases involving juveniles under 16 years of age cannot be sent to prosecutors.
The lawmakers’ bill aims to scrap that condition and lower the age to 14.
A government-proposed bill on the revision of the law was abandoned in the last Diet session due to a lack of time for deliberations. The bill called for improving fact-finding proceedings by having prosecutors be present at family court hearings.
The Justice Ministry is working on drawing up another government-proposed bill that includes improving fact-finding proceedings as well as a mechanism to give more consideration to victims of crimes.
The ministry’s Legislative Council is opposed to the move by the ruling party politicians, arguing that the issue should be discussed at the council by experts.
The spirit of the current Juvenile Law is to rehabilitate troubled youths instead of simply punishing them. It would be extremely unusual for a major revision that could change the spirit of the law to not be deliberated by the council.
The ministry and the ruling coalition are expected to discuss in mid-August whether to turn the bill into a government-proposed one or allow the legislators’ bill to be submitted.