As the elderly and mentally challenged are known to be repeat offenders – frequent shoplifters and eating at restaurants without paying – the Japanese government is looking to set up a system where the state will temporarily shoulder legal fees for the lawyers who are involved in welfare activities. This, according to government officials, would help prevent elderly and handicapped suspects and defendants in crime cases from committing repeat offenses.
It has become common that courts hand down suspended sentences for such petty but repeat offenders – with suspects usually elderly or mentally handicapped – with their lawyers promising that social welfare bodies will look after them. In many such cases, however, lawyers pay these social welfare organizations out of their own pockets, sparking calls for a legal system to pay legal fees to lawyers for these activities. The government’s response is this expanded civil legal aid system – where cash-strapped people can borrow money to pay for filing civil lawsuits – and this will in turn help lawyers cover social welfare-related activities.
This is where the government intends to revise the Comprehensive Legal Support Act, which provides for the Japan Legal Support Center, the body that handles civil legal aid. In principle and according to the proposed revisions, these suspects who receive support from lawyers must pay back the money later, but the government is studying the possibility of exemptions when needed. The government is planning to submit a bill to introduce the revision and create this proposed legal system to the Diet during an extraordinary session in autumn at the earliest.