Civil court reform

Reform has been carried out in the judicial system for criminal cases in recent years. But reform in the judicial system for civil affairs cases has been slow. There has been a call among legal professionals to improve the system for trials and court mediation related to problems that crop up in civil life. The government, the judiciary and lawyers need to make efforts that enable the judicial system to become more useful and convenient to citizens facing legal problems.

The biggest reform of the judicial system in postwar years was touched off by the council for judicial system reform, which was established under the Cabinet in 1999. Its reform proposals bore fruit in the form of the establishment of the lay judge system, law graduate schools and the Japan Legal Support Center. Also, as part of the reform efforts, a revision of the domestic relations trial procedure law went into force Jan. 1.

To cope with drastic changes in the social environment involving families, further law revisions will become necessary. Family courts are affected by such changes. The number of trials dealing with relations between husband and wife, and relations between parents and children has been rapidly increasing.

For example, family courts suffer from a shortage of rooms used for mediation efforts.

To improve the judicial system for civil affairs cases, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations in February 2012 made public a “grand design” for reform of the system. The proposal provided a basic viewpoint and direction for the reform. Its basic tenet is to establish an equitable judicial system for civil affairs cases that can be easily used and relied on by all people.

The federation’s proposal listed four main points that need reform: civil trials, domestic relations trials, litigations against the government, and improvement of human and physical resources for courts. For example, currently lawsuit fees are so high as to make people’s access to civil trials difficult.

There are also cases in which a party who has won a civil lawsuit cannot get relief or compensation from the other party because of shortfalls in the property disclosure system.

Courts suffer chronic budget and personnel shortages. There is a call for setting up more branches of district and high courts so that citizens in communities can fully exercise their right to redress in civil court action. There is strong dissatisfaction over the fact that the system makes it so difficult to file lawsuits against the government. The introduction of a class action system should be considered.

The government, the Diet, the judiciary and lawyers’ organizations must carefully listen to opinions of civic organizations, labor unions and business associations so that the judicial system for civil affairs cases will move closer to citizens.

The government should consider setting up a council of experts to carry out the reform as called for by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.