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Editorial: Doubts hang heavily over move to raise prosecutors’ retirement age

  • May 16, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has refused to listen to criticism and is using its strength in numbers to get its own way. Will it once again resort to a heavy-handed approach?

 

The issue at stake is a proposed amendment to the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act that would provide a special exception to raise the retirement age of public prosecutors, including the prosecutor-general. While the administration did not push the bill through the House of Representatives this week, the ruling coalition remains unchanged in seeking to have it passed at an early date without the slightest alterations.

 

The bill would make it possible for the age at which public prosecution officials must step down from their positions to be raised with approval from the Cabinet and the Minister of Justice. Suspicions remain that this would enable the Cabinet to arbitrarily interfere in the personnel affairs of public prosecutor’s offices. The government and ruling coalition should rethink their move and go back to the drawing board.

 

Justice Minister Masako Mori finally complied with a request from opposition parties and made an appearance at a May 15 meeting of the lower house’s Cabinet Committee. But as has been the case to date, she was unpersuasive, providing little in the way of concrete standards for extending the retirement age of prosecutors.

 

The controversy started at the end of January when the Cabinet approved raising the retirement age of Hiromu Kurokawa, chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office. The move was seen as a law-circumventing approach that opened a path for Kurokawa to become prosecutor-general. There is lingering criticism that the latest legislation is being put forward to justify the Cabinet’s unprecedented decision.

 

Yet in spite of this, Prime Minister Abe stated in a recent news conference, “Prosecutors are administrative officials, and independence of the three branches of government (legislative, administrative and judicial) will not be infringed upon in the revised law. There will be absolutely no instances of personnel affairs being determined arbitrarily.” Abe also stated that there was no change at all from the situation to date by having the Cabinet decide on the personnel matters of senior prosecution officials.

 

Has Abe forgotten that the problem arose in the first place due to doubts that the extension of Kurokawa’s term beyond the retirement age was an arbitrary move? Prosecutors have strong authority enabling them to arrest and charge even the prime minister. Precisely because of this, their independence must be guaranteed. Abe has consciously made light of this point.

 

On May 15, a group of ex-public prosecutors including a former prosecutor-general took the rare step of submitting a letter to the Ministry of Justice stating their opposition to the bill. Public opposition to the legal measure is also growing.

 

Reservations about the measure have even been expressed by members of the ruling parties.

 

The ruling coalition, however, is bent on shutting out diverging opinions, quickly replacing members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Cabinet Committee who said they would walk out if a vote were taken. The LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, meanwhile, is acting as if it is somebody else’s problem, merely calling for “a proper explanation.”

 

At a time when politicians should be pouring efforts into preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Abe administration is rushing to pass a bill sparking conflict between the ruling and opposition parties. One can only conclude that it is making light of the situation, thinking, “It doesn’t look like there’ll be a general election for a while and the public will forget about this by the time there is one.”

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