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The Japan Federation of Bar Associations agreed Friday to draft guidelines for legislation to place a moratorium on executions to provide an opportunity for public debate on the matter.

It is the first time the lawyers’ group has presented a clear, unified position on the controversial issue, as attorneys have been divided regarding capital punishment. The group said it would begin lobbying the government and Diet lawmakers to enact such a law.

Federation officials said the decision came in response to an agreement by members that the death penalty should not be allowed to continue, given an insufficient amount of public discussion on the issue, inadequate measures to prevent false accusations, and a lack of objective evidence showing whether it actually serves as a crime deterrent.

The proposal, drawn up by a federation committee instructed to look into the issue of capital punishment, was presented to the federation’s board of governors Friday.

On the international front, a majority of countries have abolished the death penalty, the panel said in its recommendations.

There is a danger that miscarriages of justice may occur under Japan’s current death penalty system, the committee said, citing four cases in which retrials found the accused parties innocent of crimes they allegedly committed. It also said that the death penalty’s deterrent effect had not been scientifically proven. And it cannot be denied that capital punishment is cruel, it added.

Panel members also criticized a public opinion survey carried out by the government in 2001 in which roughly 80 percent of the respondents said they supported the death penalty, saying the poll was conducted without disclosing sufficient information regarding capital punishment.

Killing the perpetrators does not necessarily help crime victims, the panel said, adding that victims would be better served through the establishment of a solid support system.

The committee also called for the introduction of a system in which government-appointed lawyers would be assigned to a suspect before indictment, and that a capital punishment sentence be unanimously supported by all judges at a trial.

Other recommendations include setting a new maximum penalty, including life in prison without parole, guaranteeing the rights of death-row inmates and disclosing the rules on when to carry out executions.

The proposal also said the temporary legislation should not specify the duration of the unilateral moratorium. Capital punishment should not resume until there is sufficient public debate on the issue that culminates in a decision on whether to abolish or maintain the system, it said.

Takeshi Kaneko, head of the federation panel, said he does not believe the new proposals will directly lead to abolition of the death penalty.

“The federation agreed to the proposals with the knowledge that members are split on the issue,” he said. “The main aim is to try to discuss the current death penalty system in a calm environment by temporarily suspending execution of the sentences.”

Death penalty panel

Lawmakers opposed to the death penalty will submit to next year’s Diet session a bill to establish an ad hoc commission to debate the abolishment of capital punishment, it was learned Friday.

The Diet Member’s League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty hopes the panel will serve a similar purpose to one formed years earlier to consider brain death and organ transplant issues, helping to pave the way for the legalization of transplants from brain-dead donors, sources said.

The abolitionist group, headed by former Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Shizuka Kamei, will also seek Penal Code revisions to create a new penalty for serious offenders.

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