British Ambassador Tim Hitchens has expressed concern about Japan’s continued use of the death penalty and encouraged the Japanese public, including lawmakers, to promote debate on capital punishment.

“The death penalty hurts human dignity. It cannot be proved to have deterrent power against serious crimes and it brings about an irreversible outcome in case of misjudgments,” Hitchens said at a Tokyo symposium Wednesday on the issue. “We cannot have a perfect judicial system.”

While more than two-thirds of the world’s nations have abolished the death penalty, a government survey here shows more than 80 percent of Japanese support it.

“It is, needless to say, people in Japan themselves who make the final decision (on the death penalty),” Hitchens said in Japanese at the symposium, which drew around 100 people. “I think the decision should be made based on sufficient information.”

In Japan, the details surrounding capital punishment are veiled in secrecy. Condemned prisoners are hanged without prior notice, while the public, including inmates’ families and lawyers, are informed of the executions only afterward.

There have been no executions in Britain since 1964, Hitchens said. The British government “decided to abolish the death penalty and worked for leading its people” to accept it, he said. “It is a duty of a government.”

The symposium was hosted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Some Diet members were among the audience.

Also speaking was Tatsuya Ota, a Keio University law professor.

Ota said the government has never revealed how it decides the timing for hangings.

The average period between an inmate being put to death after the sentence is finalized was five years and seven months for those hanged between 2003 and 2012.

As of Aug. 27, 2012, however, 31, or around a quarter, of death-row inmates on that date had been detained for more than 10 years, four for more than 30 years, according to Ota.

While it is assumed that the timing of an execution depends on several factors, such as the physical and mental state of an inmate, whether he or she is seeking a retrial or amnesty, or if there is a possibility of false accusation, “it still remains in a black box,” Ota said.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has called for the government to immediately launch a public debate on abolishing the death penalty by disclosing more information on the capital punishment system and suspending executions while discussions are ongoing.

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