The Judicial Reform Council on Tuesday submitted its final report to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, calling for an overhaul of the nation’s legal system — the first of its kind under the postwar Constitution — to get in step with an era of rapid socioeconomic changes.
The massive set of proposals urges the nation to increase the number of legal professionals from the current 20,000 to 50,000 by 2018, launch U.S.-style law schools in 2004 and introduce a quasi-jury system in certain criminal trials.
The council said it expects the judiciary to play a greater role in helping people solve various legal conflicts expected to arise in a freer society stemming from ongoing structural reforms that are increasingly removing administrative regulations.
Upon receiving the report from Koji Sato, the chairman of the council and a law professor at Kinki University, Koizumi expressed his Cabinet’s determination to do its utmost to achieve the plan.
“Judicial reform is essential to promote the structural reform of society and the economy. And we consider it a vital task to place it in our national strategy,” Koizumi told the council, which was meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.
Sato also called for public support in realizing plans such as citizen participation in certain legal proceedings.
“Reforms will bring about some pain and burden on the public. But public understanding of the reforms is vital,” Sato said. “The development of our society depends on awareness and determination on the part of all citizens.”
Subtitled “The Judicial System That Supports 21st Century Japan,” the 118-page report features three main policies:
Greater citizen support for the judicature through such methods as introducing a “quasi-jury” system.
Better citizen access to legal services through a shortening of the duration of trials and a lowering of costs of lawsuits.
Improvement in the quality of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, and an increase in the number of legal professionals. To this end, graduate schools of law modeled on the law schools in the United States should be established.
To achieve the proposals, the council urges the government to “take bold and positive steps,” because such changes would put a considerable strain on the already suffering national coffers.
The Koizumi administration is expected to endorse a policy at a Cabinet meeting later this week to promote the reform plan through the enactment of a basic law and a number of related bills by 2004.
The report calls for an increase in the number of working legal professionals from the current 20,000, or one per 6,300 people, to 50,000, or one per 2,400, by 2018.
Corresponding figures for other industrialized nations were about 941,000, or one per 290 people in the United States; 83,000, or one in every 710 in Britain; 111,000, or one for every 740 in Germany; and 36,000, or one per 1,640 in France.
To nurture high-quality lawyers, the report calls for establishment of law schools by April 2004 that require two to three years of study. The current National Bar Examination, which serves as the sole avenue for candidates to enter the legal profession, would be targeted for abolishment.
Starting in 2006, when the first graduates of the new law schools are expected, a new bar exam should be established parallel to the existing one for the following five years, the report says.
When the current bar exam is phased out in 2010, the number of those who pass the new bar exam should reach 3,000 a year, up from the current 1,000.
While 70 percent to 80 percent of law school graduates should be able to pass the bar exam, the report says, people who cannot afford to attend law school or have enough practical experience should be given an opportunity to take the exam without going to law school, on condition that they pass a preliminary test.
To shorten the length of civil trials — which took district courts an average of 20.5 months in 1999 — the report urges courts to have the litigants and judges consult with each other to lay out a plan on trial proceedings.
The report calls for facilitating litigants’ collection of evidence. Information held by the conflicting parties would be disclosed at an early stage in the lawsuit or even before it is brought before the court, so the court could swiftly sort out the points of dispute, and more cases could be settled out of court.
The report recommends the introduction of jurors in serious criminal trials. They would be randomly selected from registered voters to serve throughout a case and to consult with judges before handing out a verdict and sentence.
Selected jurors would be obliged to attend hearings, and defendants would not have the option of not being tried under the quasi-jury system, the report says.
A majority of jurors or judges alone would not be sufficient to secure a guilty verdict, it adds, although details of how such disagreements would be resolved have yet to be worked out.
The Judicial Reform Council consists of 13 members from the judicial and other circles of society.
Since appointed for a two-year term in 1999 by the Cabinet of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the council has held 63 meetings and four public hearings.
It has visited the U.S. and some European countries to learn about their judicial systems.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.