Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Statute of limitation for murder abolished

"The Diet on Tuesday passed bills into law abolishing the statute of limitation for murder cases and doubling the limits for other crimes that result in death.

"The government promulgated and enacted the legislation later the same day.

"The bills to revise the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code were passed at the House of Representatives plenary session with the support of the ruling parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

"Ahead of the plenary session, the lower house's Judicial Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bills.

"The abolishment and extension of the statutes of limitation also will be applied to past cases whose limits had not expired by the time the legislation was enacted.

"The statute of limitation in a 1995 case in which a couple in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, was fatally stabbed and their house set alight, which was to expire midnight Wednesday, was abolished.

"The government and ruling parties started deliberations on the bills on April 1 at the House of Councillors. They passed the upper house on April 14 and were sent to the lower house.

"Under the revised law, the statute of limitation will be abolished for murder, murder-robbery and other crimes for which the maximum penalty is the death sentence. Before the revision, the statute of limitation expired 25 years after the crime.

"The statute of limitation for sexual assault resulting in death and rape resulting in death, for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, will be extended from 15 years to 30 years.

"The duration will be extended from 10 years to 20 years for bodily injury resulting in death and dangerous driving resulting in death, for which the maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.

"The abolishment and doubling of statutes of limitation is expected to prolong investigations into unsolved cases. Because of this, investigative authorities will need to preserve evidence for years.

"Experts have pointed out that if investigators make errors in handing over evidence to their successors, it could result in innocent people being arrested and facing criminal charges.

"Judicial affairs committees of both houses of the Diet therefore adopted supplementary resolutions to the legislation calling for items of evidence to be stored properly.

"Isao Okamura, a lawyer representing the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, was delighted by Tuesday's developments.

""I welcome [the revision] from the bottom of my heart," he said in a statement.

"But Yukio Yamashita, acting head of the Committee on Criminal Law Legislation of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, believes the revision is not without flaws.

""It's inappropriate to revise the entire legal system so hastily for a case whose statute of limitation will expire soon," he said.

"The federation finds it particularly problematic that the revision can be applied retroactively to past cases.

""[The Diet] should have summoned constitutional experts and listened to their opinions," Yamashita said."

Yomiuri Shimbun (4/28/2010), Link to article (last visited 4/28/2010)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Transparency in the Supreme Court: New Justice

"The government in March announced the appointment of Kiyoko Okabe, a professor at Keio University's law school, as a Supreme Court justice, effective Monday.

"It will be the first time for more than one woman to concurrently serve among the 15 justices. The other is Ryuko Sakurai.

"It is said that the Cabinet of Yukio Hatoyama has a keen interest in promoting a woman to take over from a retiring male justice. While this is welcome, it seems somewhat belated. Still, this development suggests that society is changing.

"At this juncture, we wish to point out that questions we always had have yet again gone unanswered. Why Okabe? As in past cases, the reasons for the appointment were not made public. What are the tasks that the judiciary must tackle? What is expected of Okabe and with what intent was the appointment made?

"With regard to the appointment of Supreme Court justices, when candidates are selected from among legal experts, it is customary for the Cabinet to accept the recommendation of the chief justice and in the case of intellectuals, the Cabinet takes the initiative and confirms the intent of the Supreme Court.

"This is wisdom that has been built with the independence of the judiciary in mind. While respecting the principle, we have been calling for greater transparency in the process. Increased transparency meets the philosophy of democracy and enhances trust for trials. When a planned appointment is dubious from the viewpoint of separation of powers, enhanced transparency would help voters discern its propriety.

"In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued a number of noteworthy rulings. Among them is the case which questioned the Public Offices Election Law that did not give Japanese citizens living abroad the right to vote and a spate of rulings that paved the way for reducing burdens on consumers struggling under high-interest loans. Of course, we find some rulings unconvincing. However, from a broad perspective, the top court rulings seem to be advancing in a direction that can win public support.

"It is the role of Supreme Court justices, each with a unique personality, to draw out such rulings. Having diversified people with different backgrounds, viewpoints and values on the bench activates debate and gives rise to rulings that meet the times and open up a new era.

"What we find worrisome is that the Supreme Court has been handling a large number of cases. As many as 10,000 cases are put before the top court each year. Even though the lineup of the bench may be diversified, it is questionable whether the justices are able to fulfill their roles as "guardians of the Constitution."

"Many retired justices complain that they were too busy, saying if they had been given more time, they might have been able to engage in more intensive discussions and reach different conclusions. The fact that they harbored such feelings close to regret weighs heavily.

"While the law restricts reasons for appeal to the top court, we don't think it is functioning as it should. While the court is increasingly expected to keep the administration and legislature in check, the number of appeals is expected to grow in response to an increase in the number of lawyers and other factors. Systems that look to the future are needed. Moreover, should the awareness of the judicial world remain as it is? We need to start debate based on a broad perspective.

"The Supreme Court is the last bastion to hear objections of minorities and protect human rights. The contents of rulings are important. At the same time, we should also pay more attention to the selection of justices, the environment surrounding them and how they perform their duties."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 4/15/2010), Link to article (last visited 4/17/2010)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Lay judges' decisions respected by high courts

"With 10 months having passed since the start of the lay judge system, high courts nationwide have rejected all appeals filed by 10 defendants in criminal cases tried by citizen judges under the system.

"This shows that the high courts have respected the decisions handed down so far by lay judges at district courts and their branches across the nation, according to observers.

"On Thursday, the Niigata District Court closed its first trial in a case under the system. This means all 60 district and branch courts have passed judgment on cases under the system, which took effect on May 21 last year.

"According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 417 accused people had received sentences in lay judge trials as of March 19, and just 124 people, or 29.7 percent, appealed the court rulings. This was lower than the figure of 34.6 percent in 2008, when all trials were heard only by professional judges.

"So far, public prosecutors have not appealed for the overturn of a ruling. All 10 people who have so far received appeal court decisions saw their appeals rejected, indicating the high courts' stance of respecting the lay judge decisions.

"In a burglary-injury case in Kyoto, a man who received a 5-1/2-year prison sentence appealed to the Osaka High Court for a reduction in the sentence. But the high court rejected the appeal on March 16, saying, "The ruling given in a lay judge trial can be more severe than the expected sentence in trials ruled only by professional judges because lay judges reflect the points of view and feelings of the public."

"A defense attorney in an appeal trial of a sex crime case in the Tohoku region voiced concern that it may become difficult for appeals against sentences that defendants feels are too severe to be upheld, but added that it is good that lay judges' decisions are respected.

"Meanwhile, 17 people decided to drop appeals they had filed.

"A 24-year-old man who was sent to prison for 17 years for killing a woman at a hotel in Nagoya decided to drop his appeal two months after he filed it. His attorney said the man explained that he realized how appalling his crime was after pondering the sentence. The attorney recalled that the man seemed to take to heart the sentence handed down by the citizen judges.

"Of the 397 lay judge trials that had been held as of March 19, decisions were reached in about 64 percent of them within three days of the first hearings, and 97 percent ended within five days. While this shows that lay judge trials proceeded quickly, various opinions were heard from lay judges at press conferences after the rulings.

""I've been told there's a pile of documents on my desk at the office. Three days is the most I can take off work," a male company employee in his 50s said after he took a part in a lay judge trial at the Chiba District Court for three days in January.

"On the other hand, a woman who participated in a lay judge trial at the Mito District Court for two days in February asked whether two days was enough to consider whether a person is guilty of the crime he or she is accused of."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (3/31/2010), Link to article (last visited 4/1/2010)