TOKYO – The Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice on Thursday proposed changes to Japan’s Juvenile Law that would implement stricter punishments for 18- and 19-year-old criminal offenders.
Its report was submitted to Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa over three and a half years after the advisory panel was first consulted about lowering the age of criminal adulthood to 18 from 20 by a former justice minister.
The idea was subsequently shelved, with the current proposals marking a compromise between both sides of the initial debate.
Although the definition of an adult under the Civil Code will be lowered from 20 to 18 from April 2022, the report argued that 18- and 19-year olds “were still immature and had malleable qualities,” recommending that they should be treated differently in the criminal justice system from both juveniles under 18 and adults 20 and above.
The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to submit a proposal during next year’s ordinary Diet session to toughen punishments for offenders aged 18 and 19 without lowering the age of criminal responsibility.
The current system of having all cases referred to family courts and investigated by psychologists and other experts at juvenile correctional facilities to find ways of rehabilitating offenders will be maintained.
But the revision will expand the range of crimes referred to prosecutors, currently limited to those involving the death of a victim as a result of premeditated criminal activity.
Crimes punishable with a minimum of one year in prison, such as robbery or rape, will also be added to the list, meaning that of the 1,708 criminal offenders aged 18 or 19 processed by family courts between December 2019 and February, 52 would have been referred to prosecutors rather than three.
The changes will also relax rules for media reporting, allowing for the full names and faces of 18- and 19-year-old offenders to be revealed.
Meanwhile, the referral of “delinquents” likely to commit crimes to family courts will be scrapped for 18- to 19-year-olds, as it was deemed as limiting rights granted to adults under the Civil Code.