Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Legal Support Center

"On April 1, 2006, Nihon Shiho Shien Senta (Japan Legal Support Center) or Ho Terasu (Law Terrace) was established to offer people easy access to legal services. It began operation on Oct. 2 that year. Although two years have passed, only 22 percent of those recently polled know of Ho Terrace. More publicity is needed.

"The center was established with government money on the basis of the comprehensive legal support law. It has 50 local offices and additional smaller branches. It has 96 lawyers working at about 60 locations, and has contracts with about 13,000 lawyers nationwide. In fiscal 2007, the center provided about 220,000 pieces of information to people who sought help, and assigned lawyers to serve in about 6,700 cases involving criminal suspects, about 71,000 cases involving criminal defendants and about 200 cases involving juvenile delinquents.

"Anyone who has legal problems can dial the center's call center — 0570-078374 — although it charges ¥8.5 per three minutes. (English is OK.) Those who have become crime victims can call 0570-079714. The center's homepage has been updated recently. It has a question and answer section listing more than 100 types of basic legal problems. Unfortunately, the homepage appears only in Japanese.

"The center's services include providing free-of-charge legal advice by lawyers or judicial scriveners to those involved in civil lawsuits, having these law experts serve in civil lawsuits or negotiations, and lending money to low-income people to pay for lawyers or judicial scriveners.

"The center is not free of problems. When the scope of cases to which court-appointed lawyers can be assigned is expanded in May 2009, the center says it will need to more than triple the number of its own lawyers. To secure enough lawyers, the center will have to rethink contract conditions for hiring lawyers. At present, lawyers can work at the center for a maximum 10 years. A system to ensure a longer tenure is needed."

By Japan Times (Editorial, 5/12/2008), Link to article (last visited 5/13/2008)

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