[JURIST] The Japanese Diet on Tuesday approved a bill abolishing the statute of limitations for murder. The new law abolishes the statute of limitations for serious capital crimes, which was previously 25 years, and extends [Daily Yomiuri report] the limitation period for sexual assault and other crimes resulting in death from 15 to 30 years. The law also doubles prison terms for other crimes resulting in death. Japanese Justice Minister Keiko Chiba utilized the new law [Kyodo News report] Tuesday to keep open an unsolved case from 1995 that was set to expire at midnight. While criminal procedure laws are normally not enacted for at least a week while they are reviewed by the emperor prior to publication, this law was enforced immediately to keep unsolved cases open.
Japan has recently taken steps to reform its criminal procedure system. Last year, Japan held its first jury trial [JURIST report] since the end of World War II, with the Tokyo District Court [official website, in Japanese] convicting Katsuyoshi Fujii of murder. In 2004, the National Diet enacted the Lay Assessor Act [materials, PDF; Ministry of Justice backgrounder], which impanels professional and lay judges to decide and sentence capital cases and cases involving an intentional death. Panels can be made up of three professional judges and six lay judges or one professional judge and four lay judges. For their verdicts to stand, lay judges need the concurrence [BBC report] of at least one professional judge.