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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 May 13 - 19  > What is the problem with bill to revise Public Prosecutors' Office Act?
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2020 May 13 - 19 [POLITICS]

What is the problem with bill to revise Public Prosecutors' Office Act?

May 13, 2020
The Abe government and the ruling block are seeking to enact a bill to revise the Public Prosecutors' Office Act in the current session of the Diet. The bill, which deals with the extension of retirement ages of high-raking public prosecutors, is criticized for undermining the principle of the separation of powers. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party aims to push the controversial bill through the Lower House committee this week amid the coronavirus crisis.

Currently, the mandatory retirement age is 63 for public prosecutors and 65 for the Prosecutor General. The bill is designed to raise the retirement age to 65 for all public prosecutors. In addition, if enacted, it will introduce a post age-limit system under which high-raking prosecutors except for the Prosecutor General will be required to resign from their positions and become rank-and-file prosecutors after turning 63 years old. This system will be applied to the Deputy Prosecutor General, superintending public prosecutors (heads of High Public Prosecutors Offices), and chief public prosecutors (heads of local public prosecutors offices). At the same time, the Cabinet will be able to decide to allow particular executive prosecutors to stay in the same post for up to one year after reaching the age of the 63 years if the Cabinet deemed it necessary. The Cabinet will be able to re-extend the retirement age two times, for less than a year each. Furthermore, the Cabinet will have the discretion to allow prosecutors to hold office until the age of 68.

Independence of prosecutors will be undermined

If the bill is passed as it is, it will provide a legal basis for the Cabinet’s arbitrary intervention in the personnel affairs affecting public prosecutors, which will weaken prosecutors’ political neutrality and independence.

The Cabinet on January 31 decided to extend the retirement age of Kurokawa Hiromu, the superintending public prosecutor of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office. Kurokawa is said to be close to Abe’s inner circle. The Cabinet made this unprecedented decision without providing sufficient explanation, which has given rise to an allegation that the Cabinet decision was aimed at appointing Kurokawa as the next Prosecutor General. This allegation was taken up in Diet meetings.

The current Public Prosecutors' Office Act does not have a provision about the extension of the retirement age. The Abe Cabinet justified its decision to keep Kurokawa in office by citing the extension provision of the National Public Service Act. The Cabinet illegally reversed the conventional government interpretation that the extension provision does not apply to public prosecutors. The Cabinet decision is evidently a challenge to the rule of law and thus provoked criticism from a wide range of people, including prosecutors.

The bill is meant to silence criticism

The bill is evidently aimed at silencing the criticism against the Cabinet decision regarding Kurokawa’s service term. This can be clearly seen by the fact that the current bill was substantially changed from the previous version which was approved in October 2019 by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. The former version had only a few lines about a post age-limit system. In contrast, the current version includes a lengthy provision to enable the Cabinet to arbitrarily exercise influence on the prosecutors office’s personnel affairs.

In the past year alone, several Abe Cabinet members caused scandals that elicited investigations by public prosecutors, such as two election law violations involving former Economy Minister Sugawara Isshu and former Justice Minister Kawai Katsuyuki and his wife, Anri who is also a Dietmember, as well as a bribery scandal by House of Representatives Akimoto Tsukasa who is a former vice minister in charge of casino resort promotion. Concerning Abe’s alleged involvement in a scandal over the government-hosted cherry blossom-viewing party, a complaint was filed with the Tokyo High Prosecutors Office. There is good reason to suspect that Abe is trying to influence the current legal situation by promoting Kurokawa to Prosecutor General. The bill to amend the Public Prosecutors' Office Act should be discarded.

Past related articles:
> Gov't uses even prewar law to control prosecutors as it wants [ February 27, 2020]
> Abe Cabinet decision supposedly seeks to exert political influence over prosecution officers [ February 5, 2020]
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