Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

Crime victims and legal experts lashed out after the Cabinet approved a proposal on Oct. 18 to grant pardons to about 550,000 people in connection with events marking Emperor Naruhito's enthronement.

The government will make an official announcement of the order and make it effective on Oct. 22.

The majority of the people covered by the pardons have received fines and their civil rights have been restricted. With the pardon, their rights will be restored.

“At the congratulatory occasion of enthronement, we intend to increase the offenders’ motivation to reform and become rehabilitated and promote their reintegration into society,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference after the Cabinet meeting on Oct. 18.

About 80 percent of the 550,000 people subject to the pardon have received fines for traffic-related incidents.

Michiko Waki, whose 19-year-old daughter was killed by a truck driver who was under the influence and fell asleep at the wheel 19 years ago, said the pardons are a “violation of the feelings of victims and bereaved families of traffic-related crimes and incidents.”

“Please tell me why (the government) had to take it that far and wanted to grant pardons,” said Waki, secretary-general of Victim Support Center Tochigi, a public interest incorporated association based in Utsunomiya. “Instead of granting pardons, there are many other things to be prioritized to promote the rehabilitation of offenders such as working on measures to prevent a repeat offense."

FEWER THAN 2.5 MILLION IN 1990

Pardons have been granted in relation to congratulatory and condolence events of the imperial family, occurring 10 times in the past under the current Constitution. The last round of such pardons was 26 years ago in 1993, when Naruhito and Empress Masako were married.

The government has put an emphasis on “restoration of rights” as the principle of the pardon, the same way the previous government granted pardons when Akihito, now emperor emeritus, ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1990.

Reflecting shifts in public opinion and a growing sympathy toward victims and bereaved families, the government has decided to significantly reduce the number of people to receive pardons, compared to the approximately 2.5 million who received one in 1990.

The government has decided not to grant “grand amnesty” and a “special pardon” that will wipe the slate clean for people who have faced jail time, nor does it commute their sentences.

With the restoration of rights, the offender will regain his or her civil rights such as being able to vote and be eligible to hold office.

Also, the pardoned offender can obtain national certification that has been canceled due to a criminal action and become certified as a doctor and for other professions again.

Offenders, regardless of the types of crimes, who completed paying their fine by Oct. 21, 2016, and have not committed a second offense for a three-year period following the payment completion are eligible for the pardon.

Usually, such a restoration of rights is not granted until five years have passed since offenders paid their fines.

About 430 people who violated the Public Offices Election Law will be eligible for a pardon, although granting one to those offenders has been strongly criticized as improper in the past.

‘ABUSE OF EMPEROR’S STATE ACTS’

Legal experts and crime victims, particularly bereaved families who have lost loved ones to traffic accidents and incidents, have been enraged by the government’s decision and urged reform of the pardon system.

Setsu Kobayashi, a constitutional scholar and professor emeritus at Keio University, said the government “makes use of the state acts of the emperor for political purposes.”

Kobayashi said the “uniform pardon by a Cabinet order” that will restore the rights of a certain scope of people is particularly problematic.

Instead, he has urged the expansion of an “individual-based pardon,” with which a pardon to be granted is based on each offender’s progress in terms of reform and remorse.

“It is time to make a fundamental change in the system,” Kobayashi said.

Itaru Fukushima, a criminal law professor at Ryukoku University, viewed the government's murky decision-making process as a problem.

“It is not known at all who initiated the plan and how and in what way the decision has been made. It is indeed a black box,” Fukushima said.

The government has not released any information about the identities of the people to receive pardons, except the rough number of 550,000.

“I think a pardon is meaningful as an opportunity of rehabilitation (for offenders), but the government needs to fulfill its responsibility of explaining,” Fukushima said.

For victims and people who have lost their loved ones in traffic-related incidents like Waki, it is extremely difficult to accept the government’s decision.

Traffic offenders include those who have been convicted of driving under the influence, driving without a license, professional negligence resulting in injury or death, among others.

“Even though they were only sentenced to pay a fine, driving under the influence and driving without a license are crimes committed intentionally,” she said.