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The House of Councilors approved a bill Friday granting judicial authorities a say in whether people suffering mental problems who have committed serious crimes, including murder, need to be hospitalized.

The bill, originally submitted to the Diet last year, is expected to be passed into law during the current session, pending approval by the House of Representatives.

The legislation is targeted at people avoiding indictment, are acquitted or receive commuted sentences for serious offenses on the grounds of diminished responsibility because of mental problems.

It would give courts the authority to order people to be hospitalized or make regular hospital visits to receive treatment for their mental problems. The decision would be made by a court panel of judges and psychiatrists.

If a panel decides that hospitalization is needed, a mentally ill person would have to be admitted into a special unit, which would be established in public hospitals under standards set by the health ministry.

Managers of these facilities would be required to consult with the court every six months over whether the patient needs to remain hospitalized. Permission to have the patient discharged would also require the consent of the court panel.

Even if a panel were to decide there is no need for hospitalization, people judged mentally incompetent to take criminal responsibility would still have to see a doctor regularly. They would be required to visit a hospital on a regular outpatient basis for at least three years and a panel would decide whether they require further treatment.

When the bill was presented to the Diet last year, it stalled when the opposition camp argued that the proposed system would probably lead to long-term hospitalization for some people.

While the bill says the criteria for hospitalization would remain whether there is a risk of a person repeating a similar crime if they are not treated, the opposition camp said it would be difficult to predict that risk and that the measure would only be used as an excuse to keep them locked up in mental institutions.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has also voiced concern, saying mentally impaired people could be isolated from society.

“I worry that some mentally disabled people may be put in hospitals for a long period, even if there is no need for medical treatment,” said Okikazu Iga, a lawyer who is a member of an association panel studying the bill. “I foresee that there will be a number of problems when the system begins.”

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