Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Judicial Reform

"The long-overdue reform of the nation's judicial system that started after the turn of the century is aimed at improving public access to justice. One key objective is to ensure that people, no matter where they live in this country, can easily consult lawyers when they run into legal problems concerning their lives and jobs.

"One specific target is doubling the population of the legal community to 50,000 by around 2018, mostly through an increase in the number of lawyers.

"To achieve this target, the government has created a new law school system and changed the way bar examinations are conducted. The number of successful applications grew steadily to 2,100 last year from about 500. The government plans to increase the figure further to 3,000 in 2010.

"The reform, however, is now facing growing resistance. Some local bar associations have begun to voice opposition to the planned increase in lawyers, saying the step would lower quality within the profession. They also point out that jobs are becoming scarcer for rookie lawyers.

"Makoto Miyazaki, who was elected president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) early this month, has pledged to urge the government to review the expansion plan.

"Within the Justice Ministry, which supervises bar examinations, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama has said 3,000 would be too many. The ministry is considering a review of the plan.

"Indeed, a growing number of students at the Legal Training and Research Institute have failed the organization's graduation examinations after passing the bar exams. But this may mean that the institute is now performing more of a screening function to reject ill-qualified legal trainees as the number of successful bar exam applicants has increased.

"The quality standards lawyers are required to meet can change with the times. The claim that young lawyers are facing a job shortage cannot be accepted at face value. The average annual income of lawyers is 16 million yen, according to a report on the profession published by the JFBA.

"A greater number of lawyers inevitably make higher-paying cases hard to come by. Opponents appear to be campaigning against the proposed increase in attorneys at law to prevent such a rise in competition.

"That's nothing but an egregiously self-serving attempt to block an important reform.

"The question that must be asked here is whether the serious problem of areas without enough lawyers has been fixed. Each district under the jurisdiction of a court needs at least two attorneys because both the plaintiff and the defendant need legal counsel. Of the 203 districts under the jurisdiction of a local branch of a district court, however, three have no practicing lawyer at all, and 21 have only one. (...)"

By Editorial (2/19/2008), Asahi Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 2/26/2008)

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