The government is considering granting an amnesty for certain criminals this autumn to mark the enthronement of a new emperor.
Although Crown Prince Naruhito is scheduled to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, the pardons will be issued in conjunction with the “sokuirei seiden no gi” ceremony to be held in the fall to proclaim his enthronement and formally acknowledge the felicitations of representatives of the people and foreign nations.
Amnesties have been granted in the past in conjunction with landmark events related to the imperial family.
The last one was in 1993 when Naruhito married Masako Owada.
However, the amnesty after Naruhito becomes emperor will likely be smaller in scale, given criticism that arose in 1993 when about three-fourths of those pardoned had been convicted of breaking the Public Offices Election Law.
Amnesties were also issued in February 1989 to mark the state funeral for Emperor Hirohito following his death the previous month, and in November 1990 in line with the proclamation ceremony for Emperor Akihito.
The number of pardons and other measures to be granted in conjunction with Naruhito’s proclamation ceremony will likely be smaller than for the 1990 amnesty, sources said.
No amnesty is being considered for Akihito’s abdication on April 30. His decision to step down is a first for Japan as a constitutional democracy.
The Constitution contains a provision allowing the emperor, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, to attest to five broad types of amnesty–a general amnesty, a special amnesty, the commutation of sentences, exemptions from the execution of sentences and restoration of legal rights and qualifications revoked after a criminal conviction.
For example, individuals found guilty of violating the Public Offices Election Law are ineligible to run for office for a certain period.
One way to issue a pardon is by Cabinet order defining which crimes and punishments it covers and granting release to all those affected.
The second is a more specific process in which individual convicts submit requests for a pardon to the National Offenders Rehabilitation Commission.
The Cabinet then determines the standards for approving such a request. A “special standard amnesty” is granted only for a specific time period.
During the November 1990 amnesty, about 2.5 million people had their legal rights restored under a Cabinet order. A total of 398 individuals were granted pardons based on their specific requests.
When Naruhito and Masako were married, special standard amnesties were granted to 1,277 people. Of those, 931 had their legal rights restored.
Government officials will likely narrow the range of amnesties to be granted in autumn due to criticism that the 1990 amnesty was used for political purposes as the majority of those pardoned had committed campaign violations.
Whatever decisions are made will likely reflect the government’s stance in recent years of stressing the importance of providing support to crime victims, as exemplified by the passage of a law to protect crime victims.
Granting a pardon to those found guilty of harming others in some way could also stir public criticism. Thus, government officials are expected to tread cautiously when deciding on the standards for and scale of the amnesty.