Trials relating to medical matters take an average three years to complete compared with 8.8 months for civil trials, according to a Supreme Court report released Thursday.

Lawsuits on intellectual property such as patents require 21.7 months to finish, according to the report submitted by the court to the government’s Judicial Reform Council.

Trials involving witnesses take 19.7 months to complete, it says.

All figures are based on trials concluded last year.

The council is studying a proposal to have experts participate in trials involving patents in a bid to hasten trials as part of civil judicial reforms.

Council members will meet today to discuss the reforms.

The council will discuss introducing a system to have experts study evidence, including testimony by witnesses, before a plaintiff files a suit.

The top court report says 158,781 civil trials were completed last year at district courts throughout the nation. Of these, 674 involved medical matters and 739 involved intellectual property.

There were 39,458 trials, or 25 percent of the total, involving a witness or witnesses.

The average length of civil trials has continually declined since 1996, with the average length last year 3.4 months shorter than the corresponding 1991 figure.

Trials ending last year relating to medical matters required 1.2 months longer than those ending in 1999 but were six months shorter than those ending in 1991.

Last year’s trials involving intellectual property were on average 1.4 months shorter than those ending in 1999 and nearly 10 months shorter than those ending in 1991.

For trials involving witnesses, last year’s average was three months shorter than in 1991.

However, they still required more than 18 months to complete.

The Supreme Court said trials on specialized topics take longer because finding appropriate experts such as doctors is difficult and the courts do not have the knowhow to deal with technical topics.

Civil suit reform

A government body studying comprehensive judicial reform is considering the introduction of a system in which parties involved in a civil suit can study relevant evidence before the suit is formally filed, according to sources close to the body.

This kind of independent study of evidence is modeled after a similar framework that exists in Germany.

The matter is expected to be one of the issues to be discussed at the Judicial Reform Council’s meeting today.

Some judicial experts say that if evidence such as witnesses’ testimonies and the results of analyses can be reviewed before trials, it would greatly accelerate the trial process and encourage more court-mediated settlements.

Under the current Code of Civil Procedure, examination of evidence prior to the filing of a suit is only allowed in cases where this evidence will be difficult to use in court without a preview of this nature.

One example of this is provided by medical malpractice suits, where medical records are preserved as evidence before the case actually goes to court.

According to the sources, the system the judicial reform panel is considering would allow for a preview of evidence with no preconditions, so long as the plaintiff informs the defendant via the court of his or her intention to sue.

The study of relevant evidence prior to the civil suit would clarify points of contention in the case, as well as allow for predictions on how the court might rule, based on precedents.

The kind of evidence that could be studied in this way includes witness testimony, statements of people involved in a case and the examination of documents to be submitted as evidence, the sources said.

The German judicial system allows for a pretrial review of evidence relevant to “the state and worth of a person or thing,” “the cause behind human and material damage” and “the cost for removing human and material damage.”

Evidence checked in this manner is as valid as that presented in court.

Unlike in the United States, where the parties concerned disclose evidence to each other directly, the system being mulled by the government council envisions that examination of the evidence would be conducted with court authorization.

The U.S. system was frowned upon by the Supreme Court at a meeting of the judicial reform panel in June 2000. The top court opposed the idea, saying it could lead to problems such as the abuse of evidence and protracted suits.

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