Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Death Penalty Debate

"Two executions were carried out Wednesday, the first under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

"Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who ordered the executions and witnessed the hangings, said, "Once again, I strongly felt the need for a fundamental debate on capital punishment."

"She expressed her intention to set up a study group on the issue within the ministry and to give the media access to execution sites.

"Opposition parties have criticized Chiba, who lost her seat in the July 11 Upper House election, for remaining in office.

"Since Chiba has made clear her opposition to capital punishment, her decision to sign the execution orders raised criticism and questions. Chiba's qualifications as justice minister are certain to be discussed during the extraordinary Diet session.

"The points she raised deserve a serious response, however.

"Although the need for a debate on capital punishment has long been pointed out, there have been no in-depth discussions. Authorities have kept facts surrounding executions in strict secrecy, allowing the public to stay away from the issue.

"There have been no serious problems because the majority of citizens felt that capital punishment has no direct bearing on them. But the public must now face the issue because the citizen judge system was introduced for trials for serious crimes in May last year.

"It can be quite difficult to form an opinion on the death penalty. We have not been able to take a clear stand on this issue.

"In opinion polls, supporters overwhelmingly outnumber abolitionists. But this type of punishment leaves absolutely no room for mistakes in court judgments.

"Amid the global trend toward abolition, calls are growing overseas for Japan to stop using the death penalty. If Japan maintains capital punishment, it could face various disadvantages and negative treatment from abroad.

"Any decision on the issue must be in sync with the people's sense of justice and views about criminal punishment. We know it sounds banal, but the only way to find an answer is through an exhaustive debate.

"More attention should be paid to the information and perceptions that have built the people's views on the issue.

"Although many people feel that public security is deteriorating, the number of vicious crimes has been declining. How should we understand this perception gap?

"How should we consider the conflicting views about whether capital punishment serves as a deterrent to criminal behavior?

"What about the feelings and suffering of the crime victims and their families? What kind of life do death-row inmates lead, and how do they and people around them handle the day of execution?

"We need to know the realities surrounding the issue for meaningful discussions. Chiba's proposals to create a study group and allow the press to see the execution sites must help move us toward that goal.

"We should closely watch the situation to ensure that Chiba's proposals will not be left in the air or watered down under a new justice minister expected in the near future.

"It can be depressing to think about or discuss the issue of crime and punishment, and the question of whether the death penalty is necessary must be a subject that many people want to avoid.

"But each member of society needs to face this challenge now that citizens are directly involved in criminal trials."

Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 7/30/2010), Link to article (last visited 7/31/2010)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Inheritance Rights of Illegitimate Children

"A civil lawsuit over the constitutionality of a law that halves the inheritances of illegitimate children has been referred to the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court, raising the possibility that a judicial precedent which favors the law could be revised.

"The Third Petty Branch of the Supreme Court referred the case to the court's Grand Bench, which is composed of all 15 justices, on July 7. The move raises the possibility that a precedent set in 1995 by a Grand Bench ruling in favor of the Civil Code stipulation could be revised.

"Article 900 of the Civil Code stipulates that the inheritance of a child who is born out of wedlock stands at half that of a legitimate child. In the ruling in 1995, just five of the 15 justices were opposed to the stipulation, stating that it was unconstitutional.

"Since then, five subsequent rulings by petty benches of the Supreme Court have favored the stipulation, but opinions have been split. In a ruling by the Second Petty Bench in September last year, one of four justices opposed the stipulation, and one who ruled that it was constitutional gave the opinion that the law should be changed.

"The latest case arose after a woman from Wakayama Prefecture, who is a legitimate child, applied for her inheritance to be split with her younger brother, who was born out of wedlock, and both the Wakayama Family Court and Osaka High Court set the younger brother's inheritance at half that of his sister. This prompted the younger brother to launch a special appeal.

"If the Grand Bench rules that the Civil Code stipulation is unconstitutional, then the decision could greatly influence the current legal system's attitude to legal marriages.

"The Court Organization Law and Supreme Court regulations state that cases should be referred to the Grand Bench when new constitutional decisions are made or if there is a need to change judicial precedents. Cases at Supreme Court petty benches in which the opinions of justices are evenly split are also forwarded to the Grand Bench."

By Mainichi Shimbun (7/10/2010), Link to article (last visited 7/10/2010)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Asahi Shimbun on foreigners' voting rights

"The June 28 edition of the Sankei Shimbun wrote in its editorial that voters should pay close attention to the different arguments from political parties regarding "the framework of this country." On this, we agree.

"The point in question is whether to grant permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local elections. Since we can't see any obvious differences between the two major parties on economic and foreign policies, foreign suffrage is one of the major issues that has split the nation.

"In their election manifestoes, New Komeito, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party pledge to achieve foreign suffrage. Other parties, like the Liberal Democratic Party, the People's New Party, the Sunrise Party of Japan and Your Party, are opposed to the change.

"In contrast, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's manifesto says nothing about the issue. When the DPJ was formed, its party platform said foreign suffrage should be "realized quickly." After gaining power, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and then Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa were eager to make this happen.

"But the DPJ's coalition partner, the People's New Party, and some local assemblies reject the idea. Even some DPJ members are against the move.

"Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in the Diet, "While there is no change in the party's position, there are different opinions that the parties must discuss." With both Ozawa and Hatoyama gone, it seems that the engine behind foreign suffrage has stalled.

"More than 2.2 million foreign residents are registered in Japan, and 910,000 of them have been granted permanent resident status. Japan is already a country comprising people with various backgrounds. It is appropriate to have those people rooted in their local communities to share the responsibility in solving problems and developing their communities.

"It is also appropriate to allow their participation in local elections as residents, while respecting their bonds to their home nations.

"In its new strategy for economic growth, the government says it will consider a framework for taking in foreigners to supplement the work force. To become an open country, Japan must create an environment that foreigners find easy to live in.

"An Asahi Shimbun survey in late April and May showed that 49 percent of the respondents were in favor of foreign suffrage while 43 percent were against it.

"Since public opinion is divided, the DPJ, which put the issue on the public agenda, should not waffle but should give steady and persuasive arguments to the public.

"The LDP is raising the tone of its criticism, saying foreigners' voting rights, along with the dual surname system for married couples, is a policy that will "destroy the framework of this country." The party apparently wants to make the voting rights issue a major conflicting point between conservatives and liberals.

"Some opponents express concerns about the negative effects on national security. However, this kind of argument can nurture anti-foreign bigotry and ostracism. It sounds like nothing more than an inward-looking call for self-preservation.

"Some say foreigner suffrage goes "against the Constitution." However, it is only natural to construe from the Supreme Court ruling of February 1995 that the Constitution neither guarantees nor prohibits foreigner suffrage but rather "allows" it.

"The decision on foreign suffrage depends on legislative policy.

"In an age when people easily cross national borders, what kind of society does Japan wish to become? How do we determine the qualifications and rights of people who comprise our country and communities? To what extent do we want to open our gates to immigrants? How do we control social diversity and turn it into energy?

"Politicians need to discuss the suffrage issue based on their answers to these questions. The issue of foreign residents' voting rights is a prelude to something bigger."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 7/5/2010), Link to article (last visited 7/6/2010)