Japan's authorities are moving to toughen provisions of the law dealing with juvenile offenders. Writing in Yukan Fuji (March 2), Sankei Shimbun editorial board member Masafumi Miyamoto gives his views on the Diet's proposed modifications to the Juvenile Act, which was initially passed by the Diet in 1948. The statute has largely adopted the U.S. model, which makes the family courts responsible for hearing cases and which emphasizes guidance and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders over punishment.
Although the definition of minor will remain unchanged as a person under age of 20, the new law stipulates that those aged 18 and 19 will be treated as "specially designated" minors, and the types of offenses under which their cases can be transferred from the family court to the prosecutor's office will be expanded. Another change will be the dropping of confidentiality, enabling offenders' names to be made public.
Once passed in the Diet, the new law, which will also lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 years under the civil code, is likely to be promulgated from April 2022.
The law will continue the current practice, in all juvenile crime cases, of first reviewing offenses in family courts. However, the scope will be expanded so that 18 and 19-year-olds ("specially designated minors") can be charged by the prosecutor and tried under the same criminal code as adults.
For example, under the current statute, only "an intentional criminal act that results in the death of the victim" (i.e., premeditated homicide) can be sent to the prosecutor, but henceforth, the types of crimes will be expanded to cover such felonies as robbery, rape, arson and others.
Up to the present, even in the cases of trials for 18- or 19-year-olds conducted at hearings open to the public, the media was effectively banned from running the names photographs of the accused. Under the new law, these restrictions will be dropped.
Before people start complaining the new law is overly strict, Miyamoto invites readers to compare Japan's laws with foreign countries.
In New York state, for example offenders age 16 can be tried as adults; in California and France, the age is 18.
New York provides for juvenile courts to try offenders from age 7 to 15. However, in the cases of serious offenses such as premeditated murder or crimes with a sexual motivation, accused offenders between ages 13 to 16, or for such felonies as kidnapping, arson, rape and robbery, juvenile offenders can be tried under the criminal code.
In California, minors under age 18 who habitually disobey their parent or guardian and are judged incorrigible are subject to judgements by the juvenile court.
In the UK, juveniles age 10 through 17 years are charged in magistrates' court, and can be placed under special supervision. In France, juvenile cases are handled by the Police Tribunal, and depending on the age of the criminal and the nature of the crime, imprisonment can range from 10 to 30 years.
Offenders can also be fined up to the equivalent of 387,000 yen.
"It is natural," Miyamoto remarks, "for criminals to undergo stiff punishment for their misdeeds.
"Looking back to a terrible crime involving a juvenile that occurred 40 years ago," he continues, "the viciousness and depravity of the crime notwithstanding, the suspect received lenient treatment under the Juvenile Law.
"Observing the bitterness of the victim's family, the police could do nothing but gnash their teeth in frustration."
While incidents committed by juveniles have been declining in number, intellectual crimes have increased, and more crimes of a malicious and hideous nature have been occurring. It is essential, Miyamoto concludes, for the law to keep pace with reality.© Japan Today