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Statement on the Amendment to the Juvenile Act Applied to 18- and 19-Year-Olds

Today, the Act on Partial Amendment to the Juvenile Act and Other Relevant Statutes (“the Amendment Act”) passed the House of Councilors and has thereby been enacted into law.

As the amended Public Offices Election Act has granted 18- and 19-year-olds the right to vote, these individuals are going to be defined as adults in accordance with the amendment to the Civil Code coming into effect in April 2022. In line with the circumstances, initially, the Juvenile Act and Criminal Law Subcommittee (pertinent to the juvenile age and offender treatment) of the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice was discussing lowering the maximum age governed by the Juvenile Act. However, it eventually issued an advisory report that the basic framework of the current Juvenile Act should be maintained. That is, all criminal cases involving 18- and 19-year-olds should be transferred to family courts, where dispositions for rehabilitation should be determined after conducting investigations and scrutinizing the facts and law. Additionally, the advisory report indicated explicitly that, in the Amendment Act, 18- and 19-year-olds shall be positioned as “juvenile,” to whom the Juvenile Act is applied, so that they are subject to Article 1 of the Juvenile Act stating the purpose of the Juvenile Act is to achieve juveniles’ sound development.

The facts highlighted above may be favorably acknowledged as having incorporated, to a notable extent, the assertions reiterated by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (“the JFBA”) and regional bar associations, which had opposed the reduction of the maximum age governed by the Juvenile Act for reasons such as the following:

− The age to which a given statute is applied should be established for individual purposes of respective statutes.

− The Juvenile Act has been functioning effectively.

− Those at the age of 18 and 19 are immature and highly pliable, hence they need instructional treatment and it works well.

The advisory report also reflects the significant contribution made by the constituency of people who have previously worked in the juvenile justice system and correctional programs, such as former heads of juvenile training schools, former family court investigating officers, and former judges. Additionally, various organizations involved in the education, welfare, medical care, and rehabilitation support for children, as well as in the crime victims’ aid services, issued a barrage of opposition to the reduction of the age governed by the Juvenile Act.

On the other hand, however, the Amendment Act classifies 18- and 19-year-olds as “specified juveniles,” providing special provisions to handle them differently from minors under 18 years of age, in which none of the issues that the JFBA raised in its Opinion on the Recommendation by the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice on the Age Governed by the Juvenile Act dated November 17, 2020, as well as in other communications, were addressed.

Namely, for 18- and 19-year-olds, the Amendment Act:

− Expands the scope of so-called “referral to public prosecutor in principle” into cases involving offenses punishable by one year or more imprisonment with or without work, including robbery and forcible sexual intercourse;

− Determines the disposition for rehabilitation taking only into consideration the level of the gravity of circumstances relating to the commission of delinquency, within an extent not exceeding the corresponding upper limits;

− Does not apply the provisions that define juveniles who are likely to commit a crime in the future;

− Removes the prohibition of media reporting that may enable identification of juvenile offenders after they are transferred to prosecutorial discretion by a family court’s adjudication and a request for trial is filed; and

− Does not use indeterminate sentences nor apply the special provision regarding the restriction on personal qualification in the event that the transfer to prosecutorial discretion has led to trial in criminal court.

These drawbacks significantly compromise the conditions provided for by the current Juvenile Act.

Therefore, when fulfilling the Amendment Act, it is urged that it be used in ways that maintains the philosophy of the current Juvenile Act and avoids the detriments arising from these issues, taking account of what was confirmed during the debate on the bill and in the supplementary resolution made in the Diet.

More specifically, in terms of the expansion of the juvenile cases subject to the “referral to public prosecutor in principle,” considering the fact that the level of the gravity of circumstances relating to the commission of delinquency varies over a wide range in certain categories of offense such as robbery, the propriety of the referral to public prosecutors should be decided cautiously after careful investigation by the family court as to how much a juvenile in question needs rehabilitation, taking full account of not only the level of the gravity of circumstances relating to the commission of the delinquent act, but the need for rehabilitation. In this regard, the parties concerned, including the individuals who were in charge of the legislation of the bill among others, gave answers to the same effect repeatedly in the debate in the Diet, and the supplementary resolution adopted by the Committee on Judicial Affairs of the House of Councillors has also set out the same point.

Additionally, in deciding a disposition for rehabilitation, the “level of the gravity of circumstances relating to the commission of delinquency” indicates nothing more than an upper limit of disposition and an appropriate disposition should be chosen within the range in accordance with the need for rehabilitation.

Moreover, in regard to the media reporting that may identify juvenile offenders, the relevant information can be viewed semi-permanently once it is posted on the internet and, even if a request for trial was filed, the juvenile offender may be transferred back to family court by criminal judicial decision and subjected to a rehabilitation disposition. Therefore, careful consideration must be taken so that the media reporting will not impede the sound development and rehabilitation of juveniles, and the case details and the publicness of reporting on the case should be examined deliberately. On this point as well, a supplementary resolution was adopted by the Committee on Judicial Affairs in each of the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, given that the provisions in the Juvenile Act defining juveniles who are likely to commit a crime in the future have been functioning as “social safety net,” it should be ensured that welfare type support—outreach programs in particular—will be strengthened so that seamless support will be provided to children and young people, in order to deliver necessary support to troubled 18- and 19-year-olds, aligning the correctional and rehabilitation schemes, etc. with the welfare type support programs.

Lastly, ensuring employment opportunities is critical to facilitate improvement and rehabilitation of the 18- and 19-year-olds and their return to the community, thereby preventing them from reoffending. Therefore, the Government should review immediately the current provision on the restriction on gaining qualifications imposed on individuals with delinquency records, especially on those who were adjudicated delinquent subject to the suspended execution of the disposition.

The JFBA is committed to urging the Government and the Supreme Court of Japan to use the Amendment Act appropriately for 18- and 19-year-olds as well as maintaining conformity with the purpose and philosophy of the Juvenile Act—achieving the sound development of juveniles. Combined with this, the JFBA is also dedicated to facilitating initiatives such as developing the dispensation required to amplify the activities of defense attorneys and attorney attendants in individual cases.

May 21, 2021
Tadashi Ara
President, Japan Federation of Bar Associations

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