The Yomiuri ShimbunThe association’s activities led to wider recognition of the importance of supporting victims of crime. This achievement is significant.
The National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, commonly known as Asu-no-Kai, has been dissolved. The association said, as a reason for its dissolution, that it has fulfilled a certain role in the establishment of the rights of crime victims and bereaved families.
The association was founded in January 2000, centered around the efforts of Isao Okamura, a former vice president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, whose wife was murdered. Okamura recalled the time saying, “Victims did not exist from a legal standpoint.”
The circumstances surrounding crime victims have changed markedly over the past 18 years.
The Basic Law on Crime Victims has been enacted. The damage compensation order system has been introduced, in which the judge in a criminal trial can order a perpetrator to pay damages to lessen the burdens of victims. The statute of limitations for such serious crimes as murder has been abolished. Observation of juvenile trials by victims, among others, is also now permitted.
It is considered that the association’s activities have contributed greatly to all these developments.
The victims’ participation system is one that symbolizes the establishment of the rights of crime victims. Thanks to this, it has become possible for bereaved families and the like to question defendants in court and express opinions with regard to the prosecution’s demand for a punishment, for instance.
Considering the history of Japan’s criminal justice, which had kept victims and bereaved families in the dark, the victims’ participation system is significant. On the other hand, it is also important for the system to be employed with prudence in future so that the exchange of words in court would not become so emotional as to impede levelheaded hearings.
Expand economic assistance
It remains to be seen whether more could be done to expand economic assistance to victims of crime.
There are many victims who are unable to receive damages even though they have won cases in civil suits. According to a survey conducted by the JFBA, of those serious cases whose damages have been confirmed, as many as about 60 percent of the victims were unable to get any compensation.
If a victim does not receive damages over the passage of 10 years from the time the damages are confirmed, the statute of limitations will take effect, with which the right to claim will lapse according to the Civil Code. Instituting a lawsuit to prevent this, however, would require litigation costs.
From a viewpoint of supporting the victims, there should be some room for discussing such issues as an exceptional extension of the period of prescription and the lessening of court costs.
With regard to the system in which the state pays benefits to crime victims — after establishing whether a victim is liable or not — it is hard to say that the level of benefits offered is sufficient for them to regain the standard of living they may have enjoyed before an incident.
In Sweden and Norway, the state can seize the assets of perpetrators to collect money for compensation payments.
The municipal government of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, compensates victims up to the amount of ¥3 million, while also supporting the costs for their reinstitution of the case.
The Basic Law on Crime Victims specifies that support for crime victims is the obligation of the state, local governments and citizens. It is necessary to make efforts to expand this support as much as possible.