The Supreme Court’s new chief justice took office Nov. 25. Mr. Hironobu Takesaki, who had served as head of the Tokyo High Court since February 2007, was promoted to the highest post of Japan’s judiciary over the heads of 14 justices of the Supreme Court. This is the first time in 48 years that chief justice has been appointed without first serving as justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Takesaki will serve in the new position until July 2014, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Former chief justice Jiro Shimada retired on Nov. 21 after heading the top court for slightly more than two years. It is said that Mr. Shimada recommended that Mr. Takesaki succeed him, demonstrating his high level of trust in him. It is also believed that the relatively young Mr. Takesaki, who will be able to serve as chief justice for about five years and eight months, was chosen so that the Supreme Court can tide over a possible change of government without being swayed by it.
Mr. Takesaki, an expert on criminal cases, was dispatched by the Supreme Court to the United States in 1988 to study its jury system. From 1997 to 2006, he served in important positions of the top court’s secretariat. He displayed strong leadership in introducing the lay judge system, under which citizens will sit together with professional judges and try serious criminal cases.
The lay judge system, which will start in May 2009, is a major reform in the nation’s legal system in recent years. The choice of Mr. Takesaki as chief justice points to the Supreme Court’s strong determination to have the lay judge system take roots in Japanese society.
As Mr. Takesaki said, while the system helps deepen citizens’ understanding of and trust in the nation’s legal system, it also imposes some burdens on them. He and the Supreme Court should continually try to detect and solve problems related to the lay judge system to ensure fair trials and the smooth participation of citizens. The Supreme Court under Mr. Takesaki also should not shy away from passing clear rulings on constitutionality questions of important issues.
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