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The key to successfully overhauling the nation’s legal system lies in the extent to which the nation’s top judicial circles can work with each other toward that goal, according to former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka.

Yasuoka, a House of Representatives lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, served as justice minister from April to December 2000 under then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. He is chairman of the LDP Judicial Commission as well as head of a nonpartisan Diet group promoting judicial reforms.

“The biggest point in the direction of judicial reform today is that the bar associations have changed their position over the past few years and are now cooperating in the planning of judicial reforms,” the lawmaker said in a recent interview.

Yasuoka said that cooperation among the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry is essential to fully introduce the comprehensive proposals presented last week by the Judicial Reform Council.

“The three entities forming the pillars of the judiciary need to think about judicial reform from the standpoint of the public, rather than their own, and they should not try to confront each other (as in the past) any more.”

In 1964, the government submitted a set of reform proposals drafted by the Special Judicial Commission. However, the plan fell through due to stiff opposition from bar associations, and Yasuoka described the years that have passed since that time as the “lost decades.”

Yasuoka said again that he is determined to demonstrate political leadership by backing a government policy adopted Friday that supports the Judicial Reform Council’s proposals for more manpower and budgetary allocations for the judiciary.

“Even if (carrying out the council’s proposals) requires a substantial budget increase — which would naturally put the Finance Ministry on edge — we politicians must fulfill our responsibilities to increase the quantity and improve the quality of legal professionals to meet the public’s expectations,” he said.

Yasuoka stressed the importance of law schools, which are to be introduced beginning 2004 in accordance with the council’s proposals, to nurture the growth of high-quality legal professionals.

In order to keep the legal profession open to all, however, Yasuoka said that those who do not or cannot attend law schools must be able to compete equally with law school graduates on a new national bar examination slated to be administered in 2006, when the first law school graduates will emerge.

“If the exam results of (applicants who did not attend law school) are on a par with those of law school graduates and their abilities are deemed equal, those who have bypassed law schools deserve to enter the legal profession so that law schools will acquire a stronger sense of rivalry,” he said.

“I hope law schools provide students with curricula that not only improve their academic knowledge but also enrich their legal and educational minds.”

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