Daizo Nozawa says Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has ordered him in his new job as justice minister to make Japan the “safest country in the world” again.

“My primary task should be to return society to a condition in which women and children can walk alone on the streets at nights,” the 70-year-old Upper House member said in reference to the soaring crime rate, which has jumped 58 percent in the past decade.

What the Justice Ministry can do toward that goal, Nozawa said, is ensure prompt public access to the justice system, tighten immigration controls and reform the correctional system.

He said the country needs to establish a judicial network accessible to all, whenever and where ever needed, and to give the public a sense of security.

“It is the ministry’s urgent task to reform and modernize the legal system and make it more accessible for all,” he said.

A key feature of the proposed reform is the quasi-jury system, planned for introduction in 2005, in which citizens and professional judges will deliberate jointly in criminal trials.

The system is aimed at building public confidence in the justice system, and Nozawa said he believes the number of “civilian judges” should exceed that of their professional counterparts so citizens will play an active role in handing down rulings.

Japan’s diminishing sense of safety is due, in no small part, to the recent spate of serious crimes committed by minors, but Nozawa said he thinks revising the Juvenile Law — possibly to lower the minimum age at which a suspect can be criminally prosecuted — is not an urgent need right now.

“The issue should be dealt with instead by changing society’s view on juvenile issues and education at home and school,” he said.

To stop what he described as an influx of foreigners who come to Japan to engage in illegal activities, the new justice minister advocates introduction of passports carrying fingerprints and other “biometric” information to curb illegal entrants bearing counterfeit documents.

On reforming the correctional system, Nozawa said Japan urgently needs to build more prisons and other correctional facilities to ease overcrowding. The prison population currently stands at 116 percent of total capacity.

To do so with limited funds and prison workers, he advocates outsourcing meals, cleaning and other services to the private sector.

Revelations of two deadly assaults by guards on inmates at Nagoya Prison have raised human rights concerns. In response, Nozawa said he wants more transparent operations of prisons by ensuring greater media and public access to correctional facilities.

But Nozawa, who supports capital punishment, does not appear to advocate greater disclosure concerning executions, which is often shrouded in secrecy.

He said the ministry should continue to withhold the names and other information concerning executed criminals, citing the need to respect the privacy of their families as well as relatives of the victims of their crimes.

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