The Diet passed a set of judicial reform bills Wednesday, including a law that puts a two-year limit on district court trials and legislation that allows court sessions pertaining to family matters to be closed to the public.

The speedy trial bill, the centerpiece of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s judicial reform initiative, was approved by the House of Councilors. The House of Representatives has already passed it.

The Upper House also endorsed an amendment to the civil litigation law and a new family affairs law that allows for closed-door sessions in trials involving family matters such as divorce.

The speedy trial law is expected to enter into force later this month, and the two other laws next April.

The speedy trial law makes explicit the duty of the state, the courts, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and the litigants to conclude their litigation within two years.

The law covers all first-instance trials for criminal and civil cases at the district, summary and family court level, setting in motion government plans to increase the number of judges, public prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure stipulates proceedings schedules will be worked out, such as when rulings will be made, for lawsuits involving complex litigation like medical malpractice.

It also calls for standardizing procedures on evidence findings prior to a lawsuit and clears the way for the appointment of experts to assist trial judges.

Under the new system, all first-instance trials involving intellectual property disputes will be handled at the Tokyo and Osaka district courts. The Tokyo High Court will have sole jurisdiction for appeals.

The family affairs legislation stipulates that family courts take over from district courts in lawsuits on family matters such as divorce.

While the Constitution states that trials must be conducted in public, the new law states for the first time that as an exception to the rule, sessions can be held behind closed doors to protect the privacy of the litigants.

Judges will have the power to approve requests for closed sessions provided litigants can prove their reputation would suffer in an open trial.

The three pieces of legislation are based on recommendations the Justice System Reform Council made in June 2001 to overhaul the judiciary.

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