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Japan: Juvenile Law Amended Again

      On 25 May 2007, the amendments to the Juvenile Law[Japanese] were adopted at the plenary session of the House of Councilors. The draft amendments had been submitted to the 164 session of the Diet in March 2005 and became law during the present session after some modifications[Japanese].
      The Juvenile Law was subjected to major amendments in 2000, which lowered the age at which the juvenile may be transferred to the prosecutor for criminal procedures from 16 to 14. The amendments also introduced the rule that the juvenile who is or over 16 years of age shall be transferred to the prosecutor if he/she has intentionally killed the victim.
      The latest amendments provide for the expansion of the police powers to investigate juvenile cases; the lowering of the age at which the juvenile may be placed in a juvenile reformatory; the reinforcement of protective dispositions; and the appointment of attendants for juveniles.
      While the police investigation has been carried out on a voluntary basis if the juvenile is below the age of criminal responsibility (14 years), the amended Law introduced the statutory power of the police to conduct investigation in such cases as well, including through summoning the juvenile or his/her guardian and through confiscation. The original draft provided that the juvenile who may commit crime in the future, one of the categories for which the family court may take measures in accordance with the Juvenile Law, might be subjected to the police investigation in suspected cases. The provision was modified and those juveniles were excluded from the scope of the new police power. The new provision also states that the juvenile "shall not be forced" to answer the questions.
      With regard to protective dispositions, the chief probation officer is now empowered to give the juvenile a warning when he/she does not comply with the conditions of the probation. If the juvenile continues to breach the conditions in spite of the warning, the chief probation officer may apply for his/her placement in a juvenile home for training and education or a juvenile reformatory.
      With regard to the age at which the juvenile may be placed in a juvenile reformatory, the original draft did not provide for a specific age, deleting the age limit of the original Law (14 years). The draft provision was modified to provide for an age limit, which is now set at "approximately 12 years". During the deliberations at the Diet, the Minister of Justice explained that the term "approximately" implies one year before and after the age of 12 years[Japanese]. This has led to a concern that pupils at the primary level may be placed in a juvenile reformatory.

· Draft partial amendments to the Juvenile Law [Japanese]
· Proposals to modify the draft partial amendments [Japanese]
· Minutes No.12 of the Committee on Legal Affairs, the House of Representatives, 18 April 2007 (House of Representatives) [Japanese]