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Justice Ministry mulling amnesty for convicts in line with Emperor's abdication

Emperor Akihito walks through the Matsu-no-ma hall inside the Imperial Palace after carrying out attestation ceremonies for new deputy ministers on Aug. 7, 2017. (Pool photo)

The Justice Ministry is considering pardoning convicts following the enactment this past June of a special law allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate, sources close to the government told the Mainichi Shimbun Aug. 12.

Under the Pardon Act, the ministry can, as penal policy, change the contents and efficacy of court sentences for convicts depending on the extent to which they have rehabilitated themselves.

There are two types of regular pardons. One is "pardon by Cabinet order," which is uniformly granted to convicts who meet certain conditions -- such as types of crimes and punishments -- provided for by an order the Cabinet sets. The other is "pardon on an individual basis," in which the Justice Ministry's National Offenders Rehabilitation Commission decides on whether to grant a pardon in response to requests from individual convicts.

There is also "pardon under special criteria," which is determined on an individual basis. Such amnesty is granted to those who fail to meet the regular requirements for a pardon by a Cabinet order but meet special criteria set by the Cabinet over a certain period.

The government is currently considering carrying out pardons by Cabinet order and pardons under special criteria. If these are carried out, it would mark the first time since the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako in 1993, and the 11th overall under the postwar Constitution.

The Justice Ministry is considering the standards and timing for granting pardons, taking into consideration past cases as well as the date when Emperor Akihito's abdication takes place. The abdication law stipulates that the executive branch must set the date when the law comes into force in a government ordinance within three years after its June 16, 2017 promulgation.

Pardons by a Cabinet order or pardons under special criteria were carried out on the occasions of the return of Okinawa to Japan's sovereignty in 1972, the death of Emperor Showa in 1989 and the enthronement ceremonies for Emperor Akihito in 1990 as well as the marriage between Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako in 1993.

In 1993, only pardons under special criteria were carried out, reportedly due to criticism toward uniformly reinstating the right to vote and run for public office among those convicted of violating the Public Offices Election Act, and the fact that pardons had already been carried out on two earlier occasions since the current Heisei era began in early 1989.

In 1993, a pardon under special criteria was granted to convicts in 1,277 cases, of which 945 cases, or 74 percent, involved violations of the Public Offices Election Act.

Convicts in 90 of the cases had their convictions revoked (82 cases of which involved violations of the Public Offices Election Act), those in 246 cases saw their sentences reduced (231 of which involved election law violations), those in 10 cases had their sentences waived although their convictions remain valid (no cases involved election law violations) and those in 931 cases had their rights, which had been suspended because of their convictions, reinstated (632 of which involved election law violations).

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