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Vox Populi, Vox Dei? A closer look at the ‘public opinion’ argument for retention

Sato, M. (2015) Vox Populi, Vox Dei? A closer look at the ‘public opinion’ argument for retention. In: Šimonovic, I. (ed.) Moving away from the death penalty: arguments, trends, and perspectives. UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), New York, pp. 250-258. ISBN 9789211542158

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The Japanese government’s justification for retaining the death penalty is that abolition would erode the legitimacy of and public trust in the criminal justice system, leading to victims’ families taking justice into their own hands. This justification is based on the results of a regularly administered public opinion survey, which is said to show strong public support for the death penalty. However, a close analysis of the results of the 2014 survey fails to validate this claim. Just over a third of respondents were committed to retaining the death penalty at all costs, while the rest accepted the possibility of future abolition, with some of them seeing this as contingent on the introduction of life imprisonment without parole as an alternative sentence. These findings hardly describe a society that expects the strict application of the death penalty and whose trust in justice depends on the government’s commitment to retaining it. My reading of the 2014 survey is that the Japanese public is ready to embrace abolition. Japan, after all, is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which calls on states not to delay or prevent abolition, so this should be welcome news for the Japanese government!

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Law
ID Code:47433
Publisher:UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

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