死刑執行 法相が重い職責を果たした

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 31, 2012)
Justice minister fulfills heavy responsibility
死刑執行 法相が重い職責を果たした(3月30日付・読売社説)

Three death-row inmates were executed Thursday. They were the first executions under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in 20 months since two inmates were executed in July 2010.

Regarding the death penalty, which is the ultimate punishment, the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that executions of death-row inmates are carried out at the order of the justice minister. Executions are not performed unless the justice minister signs an execution order.

Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa said at a press conference after Thursday's executions, "It's a painful duty, but it's my responsibility." Ogawa fulfilled a heavy responsibility imposed on the justice minister to maintain order in the nation.

Among the six justice ministers so far under the DPJ-led government, former Justice Minister Satsuki Eda did not order executions because of his position that capital punishment should be abolished. Former Justice Minister Hideo Hiraoka also was cautious about executions.

No executions were carried out last year, the first time that had happened in 19 years. The number of death-row convicts had increased to 135, the highest in the postwar period.


Duty defined by law

As a country ruled by law, it is naturally impermissible for a justice minister not to perform a duty defined by law because of his or her thoughts and beliefs, and for this to influence the pace of executions.

If the former justice ministers who did not order executions oppose the death penalty system and had decided from the first not to order executions, as politicians they should not have accepted the post.

The inmates executed Thursday committed heinous crimes, including random attacks in which one inmate murdered five people and injured 10 at JR Shimonoseki Station in 1999.

Bereaved families who one day suddenly had their loved ones' lives taken away strongly desire harsh punishment for death-row inmates.

Ogawa said at the press conference, "The right to decide how crimes should be punished rests with the people."

There is strong opposition against the death penalty system from some groups, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which has submitted a request to the justice minister urging the ministry to start discussions on abolishment of the system.


Widespread support for system

According to a Cabinet Office survey, however, as many as 85.6 percent of respondents support the death penalty system. Many people are concerned that the bereaved families of crime victims will not be healed if capital punishment is abolished and that heinous crimes may increase. This is a weighty fact.

In addition, the lay judge system that began in 2009 and in which ordinary citizens participate in trying cases has so far handed death sentences to 13 defendants. As long as the system requires citizens to make a tough decision on whether to choose capital punishment, it is proper and appropriate for the justice minister to fulfill his or her responsibility.

Carefully and strictly checking rulings in which capital punishment has been finalized and implementing the death penalty system calmly in accordance with law will help increase the people's faith in justice.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2012)
(2012年3月30日01時39分 読売新聞)

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