Few Japanese outside the legal community may be able to name even a single Supreme Court justice. Lower court judges are equally anonymous.
Despite the heavy responsibilities of those who sit on the bench, ordinary individuals know nothing about them.
In an effort to make them more visible, a book profiling judges and their rulings on major cases was put out in May by a Tokyo publishing house.
As a publication covering judicial issues, “Judges’ Who’s Who/ Tokyo District and High Court Edition,” the first of its kind in decades, has been selling unusually well, with about 10,000 copies in circulation according to publisher Gendai Jinbun-Sha Co.
The book notes how one judge issued a guilty verdict “without answering a question raised by the defense,” while another “told a member of the gallery to wake up, although he sometimes falls asleep himself in court.”
Also featured is a judge who “yelled at a convicted thief for several minutes, saying the man showed no remorse.”
Some judges won praise for having a reputation for being very conscientious.
The author, Noriaki Ikezoe, a newspaper reporter-turned-freelance journalist, interviewed members of the legal community and frequented courts to observe judges in action for about six months.
Although his comments on more than 100 judges are mainly harsh, they may also get readers to realize that each judge has a personality.
“Frankly speaking, there are both good and bad judges,” he said. “In fact, I have to say that terrible reputations tend to concentrate on certain judges.”
The book details how similar cases can result in totally different rulings, depending on the presiding judge.
Take, for example, rulings on the detention of Afghan asylum-seekers in November. In the early stages of the ongoing cases, a Tokyo District Court judge allowed five of the nine Afghans to be released, yet another judge rejected the release of the other four, who were in basically the same situation. The cases were handled by two different judges merely at the court’s convenience.
Ikezoe said many people, including lawyers, know little if anything about the judges handling their cases.
“Although lawyers well remember rulings or arguments in their cases, they often don’t remember the judges’ faces or names,” he said, noting the book was partly aimed at exposing judges, who rarely receive criticism, to the eyes of the public.
Ikezoe hopes the book encourages readers to watch court sessions.
“I believe public scrutiny will change judges,” he said. “At least they cannot fall asleep in front of a full gallery.”
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