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U.S. civilian employees to face Japanese justice

Date Posted: 2011-11-25

Japan and the United States are about to make a significant change to the Status of Forces Agreement that would hand over U.S. civilian employees to the Japanese for trial in cases of crimes when they’re on duty.

The change will mean that civilian employees involved in crimes or accidents while they’re on duty will be handed over to the Japanese for trial. Government officials say the change will fix what one described as “a legal loophole” in the Status of Forces Agreement. The current rule is so vague about how non-military personnel are to be treated, an official say, that neither Japanese nor American authorities have been able to try them in many cases.

The formal agreement on the change will come at a meeting of the Joint Committee. The current SOFA rules spell out that the U.S. has primary authority to bring both military and non-military U.S. personnel suspected of crimes if they’re on duty at the time of the offense, but Japan has jurisdiction if they’re off duty.

Sources say the two countries will concur that the U.S. does have primary authority to try civilians, but that Japan will also be able to do some in some cases. The two governments are also studying another SOFA rule to permit Japanese prosecutors to have indictment authority on both military and non-military personnel at U.S. bases in the country if they become in traffic accidents after drinking alcohol during official events.

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