The Judicial Reform Council released on Monday a draft of its final report on structural legal reforms, calling for more lawyers and better public access to them, more public participation in the judiciary, and juries whose decisions would be nonbinding.
The advisory panel to the prime minister presented the 109-page draft earlier in the day at its 59th meeting. The council was inaugurated in July 1999 for a two-year term and consists of 13 people who are jurists, scholars, businesspeople or members of civic groups.
With the current climate of deregulation and globalization expected to place a greater burden on the legal system, the draft calls for more legal professionals and for the quality of the profession to be enhanced.
The draft calls for the number of successful candidates of the National Bar Examination to be increased by 500 a year to 1,500 in 2004.
It also recommends that new law schools with two-to-three year courses be established in April of that year.
With the first graduates of these new schools emerging in 2006, the report recommends a new bar exam then be phased in over five years beginning that year in line with the new schools’ curricula.
Under the new examination, the number of successful candidates is expected to reach 3,000 a year in 2010, with about 70 percent to 80 percent of them being graduates of the law schools.
According to the draft, those working in legal professions would then number around 50,000, or one per 2,400 people, by 2018.
The number of legal professionals in 1997 was roughly 20,000, or one per 6,300 people. This compares with 941,000, or one per 290, in the United States; 83,000, or one per 710, in Britain; 111,000, or one per 740, in Germany; and 36,000, or one per 1,640, in France.
To speed up time-consuming trials, the draft also calls for a substantial increase to the number of judges, prosecutors and the relevant court and Justice Ministry personnel.
In the face of ongoing restructuring toward a smaller government, the report “strongly demands that the government take bold and positive measures to ensure the necessary personnel and budget,” while calling for a promotion system under the Cabinet to be prepared.
The draft aims to halve the length of civil trials involving the examination of witnesses through better trial planning and to facilitate the collection of evidence at an early stage. In 1999, the average civil trial lasted 20.5 months.
The length of trials involving specialized knowledge such as medical cases — averaging 34.6 months in 1999 — is also to be halved by allowing outside experts to participate in support of judges.
The draft also recommends opening certain criminal trials to public participation through a council of judges.
Under this plan, a de facto jury randomly selected from registered voters would hear a case and then make a judgment and decide on a sentence through a joint council with professional judges. An unfavorable verdict against defendants should not be passed solely by a majority of either group, the report says.
To accelerate the pace of criminal proceedings, procedures must be developed for a better disclosure of evidence so courts can effectively sort out the point at issue while preparing for a case.
The report also says courts should be able to open consecutive days to concentrate on each case.
It urges judges, prosecutors and lawyers to facilitate the interchange of personnel among each other, allow the active involvement of civil representatives, become more open and transparent, and adequately meet public demand.
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