Reforms needed for civil litigation

A group of lawyers, scholars and representatives of consumer, labor and business organizations has recently submitted a report to the government and the Supreme Court, calling on them to form a study body to carry out judiciary reform that will establish a system that is easy to use and reliable when citizens resort to lawsuits and other legal procedures to settle civil affairs. The government should immediately form such a body to gather the necessary knowledge from a wide range of sources, including the central and local governments, the judiciary and private-sector organizations. The Diet also should take an interest in the matter so it can carry out necessary legislative actions in a timely manner.

On the basis of recommendations made in 2001 by the Justice System Reform Council, the number of lawyers has increased by 13,000 in the past 10 years. But the number of court judges has increased by only about 600. The reform is inadequate to deal with an increasing number of legal cases involving such matters as divorce, inheritance, employment, and consumer products and services. In 2012, citizens relied on consumer consultation services in over 850,000 damage cases, estimated to reach ¥3.4 trillion, and divorce cases topped 240,000. The Japan Legal Support Center received some 540,000 calls. However, the number of civil lawsuits has leveled off at slightly less than 100,000 a year for nearly 10 years, suggesting difficulties in filing such lawsuits. The difficulties include a paucity of legal experts, the high costs of lawsuits and the lengthy time it takes to settle them. It is also sometimes difficult for winning plaintiffs to receive compensation in civil lawsuits due to inadequacies in the proceedings to execute a ruling. Citizens also have difficulty locating capable lawyers who specialize in the area of concern. The list of problems goes on and on.

When the size of the population is taken into account, the number of civil lawsuits in Japan is about one-eighth that of the United States, one-third that of Germany and South Korea, and one-fourth that of Britain. The number of administrative litigations is extremely low in Japan, with slightly more than 2,000 a year. In contrast, there are some 500,000 administrative litigations in Germany a year.

The administrative litigation system is clearly not working properly in Japan. Therefore the legal conditions that must be met to file lawsuits against administrative decisions should be liberalized. Currently only the main offices of district courts accept requests for mediation for labor disputes. Apart from these main offices, only a district court branch in Tokyo and another in Fukuoka Prefecture accept such requests.

In a nutshell, legal services in Japan are inadequate. As the proposal says, the central government should at the very least increase the budget to increase the number of judges and court workers. But this is only the first of many steps that must be taken.