Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bar Passage Rate: Increasing the Number of Lawyers

"The government's goal of improving the quality of judicial services for the public by increasing the number of lawyers now stands at a crossroads.

"In June 2007, the Cabinet decided to move up the target date for increasing the number of people passing the National Bar Examination to about 3,000 annually before 2010. However, Tuesday's decision reverted the plan back to the original schedule of 2010.

"Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama was beaming after the decision was reached.

""We no longer plan to move up [the target date for the increase] or to further increase the number of lawyers after reaching the goal. I'm really grateful that the Cabinet respected my opinion," Hatoyama said at a press conference after the Cabinet meeting.

"In February, Hatoyama launched a task force within the ministry charged with examining the ideal number of people to pass the bar exam. The group considered reducing the number of people who pass the exam from 2010, a move apparently taken over fears that a glut of lawyers could see Japan turn into a "litigious society."

"Bar associations across the country also bristled at the government's plan to increase the number of people passing the bar exam.

"In October, the Chubu Federation of Bar Associations adopted a resolution against the government plan, saying the drastic increase in the number of lawyers in recent years had saturated the market in major urban areas. Many lawyers apparently were struggling to find enough work.

"Resistance to the proposal also took shape in the Liberal Democratic Party, where a subcommittee on the education of legal professionals and the bar exam started discussing the appropriate number of legal professionals in November.

""It's fine to set the goal of increasing legal exam graduates to 3,000, but this should be on the premise that we ensure the quality of legal professionals," Hatoyama said.

"Opponents of the government's plan were particularly boisterous regarding the possible decline in the quality of lawyers.

"However, some legal experts question whether this argument holds any water.

""If the government tries to dramatically increase the number of people passing the bar exam, which has long been capped at a low figure, the question of [legal professionals'] quality will inevitably raise its head," a judicial expert said. "But I presume the government has been promoting judicial system reform while taking such matters into consideration."

"Lawyers are concentrated in major urban areas. According to the Justice Ministry, 24 district courts and their branches have either no lawyers or only one lawyer under their jurisdiction.

"Prof. Setsuo Miyazawa of Aoyama Gakuin University's Law School is adamant that the current system must be reviewed as quickly as possible.

""The government's decision is a step back from the proposal of the Justice System Reform Council," Miyazawa said, referring to the council that had called for raising the number of lawyers.

""Unless a sufficient number of people are guaranteed to pass the bar exam, talented individuals will not even try to enter law schools. This will eventually erode the quality of legal professionals," he said.

"Miyazawa also suggested that lawyers will remain reluctant to shift to areas with a dearth of lawyers unless the number of lawyers continues to rise. At the same time, if the number of judges and prosecutors does not increase, efficiently dealing with criminal cases will become increasingly difficult, he said.

"'Pains of childbirth'

"A series of discussions on judicial reform started after the Justice System Reform Council was founded by the administration led by former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in July 1999. The reforms aimed to make the judicial system--which was widely considered as being disconnected from the public--closer to the people and more trustworthy, according to Prof. Koji Sato of Kinki University's Graduate School of Law, who served as the council's chairman.

"In June 2001, the council's final report submitted to then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi centered on the following proposals:

"-- Introduce a lay judge system, under which citizens take part in criminal trial proceedings along with judges.

"-- Open law schools in fiscal 2004.

"-- Increase the number of people passing the bar exam to 3,000 in about 2010.

"Armed with these proposals, the government established the headquarters to promote judicial system reform in December 2001.

"The government has since passed several laws to promote the judicial system reform, including a law concerning the establishment of law schools and new bar exams in November 2002.

"Two more laws were passed in May 2004--a law on the introduction of the lay judge system, and another law designed to improve legal assistance for citizens, under which the Japan Legal Support Center was established.

"The lay judge system is scheduled to be introduced by May 2009, and the current bar exam is due to be abolished after being held in 2010.

"Put simply, judicial system reform is being carried out as a national strategy, and the planned increase in the number of people passing the bar exam constitutes the foundation of this strategy.

"Sato believes judicial system reform is steadily moving ahead, despite a few wobbles along the way.

""The Diet unanimously passed most of the 24 laws designed to give shape to the content of the council's final report. In this respect, judicial reform is the citizens' collective opinion," Sato said.

""The ongoing reforms have indeed faced problems, such as low pass rates in bar exams and a lack of understanding of the lay judge system. Nevertheless, these are like the pains of childbirth, and steps are steadily being taken toward reform," he said."

By Toshimitsu Miyai and Fumio Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun (3/27/2008), Link to article (last visited 3/27/2008)

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