Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Openness on executions a welcome change
In a major switch from its hitherto secretive policy, the Justice Ministry
for the 1st time disclosed the names of 3 death row inmates executed on
We believe the government should not hesitate to reveal such details on
executions that have been carried out in accordance with the law by this
Commenting on the ministry's decision to publicize the names of the
executed inmates, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said, "It's necessary
for [bereaved families of] crime victims and the public to know and
understand if capital punishment is carried out properly and solemnly."
The ministry apparently made this decision out of consideration for the
victims, both dead and alive, of the crimes committed by executed inmates,
and the victims' families. Disclosing the executed inmates' names also
fits in with the trend toward greater information disclosure in recent
Previously, the ministry had not immediately revealed even the fact that
some convicts had been executed. Instead, it only listed in an annual
report the number of people executed each year.
The ministry had defended the practice by saying it needed to consider the
mental anguish that executions would cause for the convicts' families and
other death row inmates.
From 1998, however, the ministry started publicizing the number of
executions soon after the sentences were carried out. Media organizations
have, on their own accord, traced and reported the names of inmates put to
Public support death penalty
In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll in December last year, 80 % of
respondents said the death penalty should be maintained or that they
"somewhat" support the continuation of capital punishment. Many people
apparently believe the death penalty serves as a deterrent to heinous
crimes to some extent.
As long as society supports capital punishment, it would only be natural
for the ministry to reveal the facts about the execution of inmates.
Some U.S. states that have the death penalty release the names of executed
inmates on Web sites or through other channels.
After the lay judge system, which will be applied for trials of serious
crimes, starts in the spring of 2009, ordinary people--together with
judges--will have to decide whether a defendant should be condemned to
Doubts may arise over how the lay judge system is run if information on
executions is kept secret, even as citizens are set to participate in
determining whether a death penalty should be handed down in specific
cases. Perhaps the ministry also had this concern in mind when it changed
tack and revealed the names of the 3 men put to death Friday.
Death row getting longer
According to the Criminal Procedure Code, the death penalty is carried out
at the order of the justice minister.
However, Hatoyama once commented: "I wonder if there's a way to
automatically proceed with the execution [of death row inmates] without
the involvement of the justice minister."
The death penalty is the ultimate punishment. That is the very reason that
an execution order signed by the justice minister--who wields the
overriding responsibility for judicial administration--is required to
carry out an execution. We must say Hatoyama's remarks were inappropriate
The Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that the justice minister should
give an execution order within 6 months after a death penalty has been
finalized. But, in practice, it takes an average of seven years until an
execution is carried out. As a result, the number of inmates waiting on
death row has increased to 104.
We hope the ministry's decision to reveal the names of executed inmates
will give momentum to debate about how this nation should run its capital
(source: The Yomiuri Shimbu
# 12:38 PM