Teppei Ono: Lawyer in Japan. Vice-Chair of JFBA’s International Human Rights Committee. Secretary General of Center for Prisoners’ Rights      

Over the past decade, there is a worldwide tendency towards decline in the use of the death penalty. As for now, some 170 States have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice. In spite of this global trend, many Asian countries including Japan, India and Malaysia still retain their death penalty systems. The road to abolition seems to be a quite long one, but there have been some positive developments in 2023. Malaysia’s Parliament approved legal reforms to abolish the mandatory death penalty. In Japan, the Tokyo High Court finally decided to allow a retrial for Mr. Hakamada an 87-year-old former boxer who spent decades on death row last March. This session discussed the role of defence lawyers and bar associations in abolition of the death penalty. The panel consisted of and moderated by the following defence lawyers:

Mr. Julian McMahon AC SC, Melbourne barrister

Mr. Abdul Rashid Ismail, Malaysian Bar

Ms. Shreya Rastogi, Project 39A, National Law University Delhi

Mr. Yuji Ogawara, Chief Secretary, Central Board on Abolition of the Death Penalty and Reform of the Relevant Penal System of Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA)


Mr. Teppei Ono, Vice Chair, JFBA’s International Human Rights Committee

What can defence lawyers and bar associations do or should do to abolish the death penalty? Defence lawyers know from day-to-day practice that there is no perfect criminal justice system. Even innocent people can face the death penalty. They also know that every criminal – even those who have committed the most serious crimes – can be rehabilitated. The speakers shared their views and experiences on the particular role played by defending lawyers and the bar.

Mr. MacMahon stated that the bar council needs to clarify its position on directing the abolition of the death penalty and to provide politicians with the necessary information to enable them to make the decision to abolish the death penalty. Mr. Ismail shared the experience of the Malaysian Bar and stressed the importance of working with politicians to abolish the death penalty. Ms. Rastogi, on the other hand, noted that behind the death sentences is the lack of quality legal aid due to poverty. She stated that quality legal aid must be provided at all stages of criminal proceedings. Finally, Mr. Ogawara highlighted the work of the JFBA on the abolition of the death penalty. He said it was important to work with politicians, other civil society and religious organisations, and the international community, including European countries, to lead Japan towards abolition.