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The Diet enacted a controversial law Thursday on procedures for hospitalizing mentally impaired lawbreakers, after an unusually long path of deliberation.

The House of Representatives passed the bill with primary backing from the ruling coalition. The new law is expected to take effect next spring at the earliest.

The government proposed the legislation during last year’s ordinary Diet session. But the opposition camp argued it could lead to prolonged hospitalization because it fails to clarify concerns over the recurrence of crimes, leading it to undergo deliberations for three legislative sessions.

The bill cleared the House of Councilors on June 6. , three days after the governing coalition forced it through that chamber’s Judicial Affairs Committee.

The law targets mentally disabled people who face serious criminal charges but are judged unfit to be indicted or stand trial, as well as those who have their cases thrown out or their sentences commuted due to their diminished mental state.

It will give the courts the authority to decide whether these people should be hospitalized or required to make regular hospital visits after discussing their cases with a court panel consisting of judges and psychiatrists.

If the court panel decides hospitalization is needed, the mentally impaired offender must be admitted into special units set up at public hospitals under a standard to be set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The panel will also discuss whether hospital stays need to be extended, as well as whether the patients could be discharged, after receiving status reports from the hospitals every six months.

If the panel decides there is no need for hospitalization, the mentally impaired offender must see doctors regularly at similar special units for at least three years. Even after that, a court will have to decide whether the person can stop the visits or must receive more treatment.