Monday, September 29, 2008

"Court surveys companies over lay judge system

"Ahead of next May's planned introduction of the lay judge system, the Tokyo District Court has begun surveying various companies on the possible impact of the system in the workplace and the type of obstacles likely to be faced by employees should they be chosen to act as citizen judges, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

"The move is aimed at gathering information needed to assess the extent to which people will be able to refuse serving as a citizen judge, officials from the court said.

"The accumulated data and information will be stored in a database for future reference.

"Citizen judges will be chosen from a list of potential candidates drawn from among eligible voters. However, people can refuse to serve as a lay judge if they cite serious disruption to their work or personal life. Professional judges will decide whether to accept the reasons for the refusal."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (9/25/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/29/2008)

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Supreme Court Justice

"Ryuko Sakurai, who was recently appointed as a Supreme Court justice, is as old as the Constitution, which she is obligated to uphold.

"Sakurai, 61, is the first top court justice born after World War II and the third woman appointed to the post.

"When she was a division chief at the Labor Ministry--a predecessor of today's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry--she participated in the creation of the now defunct Child-rearing Leave Law.

"She arranged compromises between employers and workers, and prepared the law comprising 17 articles after many struggles.

""[The creation of] any law is the result of the sweat and tears of people involved. I'll interpret laws from a humanistic point of view," she said.

"People who know Sakurai describe her as a policy expert with a strong character.

"When she was loaned to the Osaka prefectural government, Sakurai experienced the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. As chief of the citizens and culture division of the prefectural government, she worked for disaster relief. After resigning from the Labor Ministry, she worked as a member of the Cabinet Office's panel for information disclosure. At the time, she demanded the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry disclose the names of hospitals to which fibrinogen--a blood product including tainted units that caused hepatitis--was distributed.

"At her previous post, the ministry disagreed with her demands on the grounds medical institutions would suffer. Sakurai said, "Nothing is more important than people's lives."

"Sakurai lives with her husband and a cat one of her friends found on the street. Her motto is "do my best."

"Her hobbies include skiing, mushroom hunting and pottery. She made all of the cups and plates in her kitchen. When asked about her pottery, Sakurai laughed and said, "I never felt the pottery I made was good enough." She added she will use a potter's wheel to clear her mind if she has a hard time with courtroom trials."

Dai Adachi, Yomiuri Shimbun (9/20/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/22/2008)

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Court orders school to pay damages to lightning strike victim

"The Takamatsu High Court has ordered a high school and athletics association to pay about 307 million yen in damages to a 28-year-old man who was struck by lightning during a school soccer match in 1996, leaving him severely disabled.

"The man, Mitsutoshi Kitamura, and his family had sought about 646 million yen in damages from Tosa Senior High School and the Takatsuki city athletics association over the incident, which occurred when Kitamura was a student at the school.

"In handing down the ruling on Wednesday, which came after the Supreme Court sent the case back to the high court, Presiding Judge Masahira Yanobu said the accused parties could have avoided the accident.

""They neglected their duty to take care to predict an accident, and are at fault for exposing the victim to the accident without taking evasive measures," the judge said.

"The ruling was the first to accept a school's responsibility for an accident involving lightning, and is likely to affect schools significantly in their measures to ensure safety.

"According to the ruling, the accident occurred on Aug. 13, 1996, during a soccer tournament in Takatsuki in which 62 teams from across the country were taking part. The lightning struck during a match at about 4:35 p.m., and left Kitamura with severe disabilities affecting his eyes and limbs. After the accident he was unable to speak normally.

"Originally the high court dismissed the claims, but the Supreme Court decided that the lightning strike could have been foreseen, and sent the case back to the high court.

"There were 50 concrete pillars around the soccer field, and the plaintiffs claimed that the accident could have been prevented if the players had been ordered to crouch down at a distance of 2 to 4 meters away from the pillars. The school argued that there was no time to evacuate the students, but the high court dismissed the claim and said that the accident could have been avoided if the starting time of the matches had been delayed after having the players take shelter.

"School officials said they would take the ruling seriously.

""We will be careful about safety measures to make sure that this kind of unfortunate situation never occurs again," the school's headmaster said."

By Mainichi Shimbun (9/18/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/19/2008)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bar Examination 2008

"The rate of test-takers who passed this year's new national bar examination dropped by seven percentage points from last year, to 33 percent, marking the third consecutive year of decline since the exam was introduced in 2006, the Justice Ministry commission in charge of the issue said.

"Of the 6,261 candidates who took the new-format bar exam, for which the nation's law school graduates are eligible, 2,065 passed, fewer than the 2,100 to 2,500 the commission had projected. It was the first time the number of successful candidates was less than the commission expected.

"This year's pass rate was 32.98 percent--a 7.2 percentage point decrease from 2007 and a sharp fall from the 48.25 percent posted in 2006.

"The unexpected drop has put into doubt the government's original aim to increase the annual number of successful examinees to about 3,000 by about 2010.

"This year, students from all 74 law schools in the nation took the bar exam, with 36 percent more candidates than a year ago.

"It was the first time the exam was taken by candidates from all 74 schools, which have been established in response to the government's call to increase the number of the country's legal professionals.

"Tokyo University had the most successful candidates for the second year with 200, followed by Chuo University's 196 and Keio University's 165.

"No one from Aichi Gakuin University, Shinshu University or Himeji Dokkyo University passed the exam.

"Aside from those three, 31 schools had less than 10 examinees pass.

"The commission had set annual, phased goals to gradually increase the number of successful examinees to 3,000. For this year, the targeted number was set between 2,100 and 2,500.

"The average age of this year's successful examinees--1,501 men and 564 women--was 28.98, with the oldest at 59."

By Yomiuri Shimbun(9/13/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/13/2008)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mediation in Medical Malpractice Disputes

"An out-of-court settlement mechanism for legal conflicts concerning medical malpractice will be expanded nationwide, according to sources.

"The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has decided to open by next spring more than five medicolegal alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organizations, in the hope they will provide people with a viable alternative to the expense of filing a lawsuit.

"The new organizations will be similar to one jointly established by three Tokyo bar associations last year.

"Under an ADR system, mediators attempt to negotiate resolution of conflicts concerning accidents that occur during medical treatment in response to applications by parties concerned.

"According to the Supreme Court, 944 medical suits were filed last year, up 60 percent from 10 years ago.

"In court proceedings, assessing the legal responsibility of a medical institution or doctor generally takes a long time, due to the difficulty of proving a causal relationship between a course of treatment and an undesirable consequence.

"On average, the duration of such a case is about two years, according to the Supreme Court.

"In light of these factors, some local bar associations have already introduced ADR systems, which had been previously used mainly in disputes regarding traffic accidents and housing standards.

"Along with the Aichi Bar Association, which has a longstanding practice of utilizing ADR, three bar associations based in Tokyo established an ADR system in September 2007 with a specific focus on medicolegal cases, enlisting 30 lawyers with experience in medical lawsuits as registered mediators.

"The mediating process can be initiated at the request of either the patient or the medical institution.

"Each party is provided with a mediator as counsel, and another neutral mediator takes part in the negotiations.

"The system offers both legally binding arbitration, which has legal authority equal to that of the courts, and nonbinding mediation aimed at reaching a mutually agreed settlement.

"All negotiations during ADR are held in closed sessions to ensure privacy.

"The Tokyo organization received 45 applications for ADR as of July, seven of which were settled with either payments--ranging from a few hundred thousand yen to a few million yen--or apologies after two or three mediation sessions.

"Encouraged by these results, the JFBA's ADR center will begin offering ADR for malpractice-related disputes in seven of the eight cities where a High Court is located, the exception being Takamatsu.

"Another alternative to entering the court system is in the works, with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry planning to set up a committee for the prevention and investigation of malpractice."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (9/10/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/10/2008)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Kazuko Yokoo to Resign from Supreme Court

"Former Social Insurance Agency (SIA) head Kazuko Yokoo, 67, has decided to retire from the Supreme Court bench, the court said Thursday, citing her length of service.

"Yokoo is quitting amid mounting calls for current and former senior SIA officials to take responsibility for the agency's mishandling of pension records.

"Nine Supreme Court justices have stepped down before the retirement age of 70, but few cited reasons other than health problems.

"Yokoo is the longest-serving Supreme Court justice among the current 15 members and only the second woman appointed to the top court."

By Asahi (9/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/5/2008)

Pelosi and Hiroshima

"House speakers of Group of Eight countries, who were in Hiroshima for their annual summit, laid flowers Tuesday at the memorial monument for victims of the city's atomic bombing in 1945.

"As the G-8 legislative heads were about to leave the ceremony, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned to the monument again and made the sign of the cross on her chest.

"We wonder what went through her mind at that moment. Did she pray for the repose of the 140,000 people who perished in the nuclear blast? How did she feel about the fact that her own country dropped the atomic bomb?

"Pelosi's presence made her the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit Hiroshima since U.S. forces leveled the city, ushering in the nuclear age.

"There is a deep gulf between Japan and the United States as to how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be viewed.

"Japan and the United States, now bound by a bilateral security treaty, congratulate themselves on having an "alliance based on shared values."

"But unhealed wounds of war and history continue to haunt relations between the two countries.

"The U.S. government's position is that the atomic bombings hastened Japan's surrender, thereby saving many lives, both American and Japanese.

"But in this country, the general perception among the public is that Japan would have surrendered before long even if it had not suffered nuclear devastation. Also, Japanese people generally think it is unforgivable, from a humanitarian point of view, to use a weapon that indiscriminately kills civilians and causes serious radiation illnesses among survivors.

"The Japanese government, however, has deliberately adopted a vague position on the issue to avoid hurting the crucial alliance with Washington. It has argued that the use of nuclear weapons cannot be categorically defined as a violation of international law.

"The sensitive nature of the issue's implications for bilateral relations was highlighted last summer by then Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, who said the dropping of the atomic bombs by the United States in the closing days of World War II "could not be helped." Kyuma's remarks inaccurately represented the U.S. position and blatantly disregarded the sufferings of A-bomb victims.

"One year on, Japan's Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono chaired the annual meeting of his G-8 counterparts, which was held in Hiroshima at his initiative. By doing so, Kono didn't try to raise the question of who is to blame for the unprecedented disaster. Rather, he tried to set the stage for serious debate on nuclear arms reduction based on a clear and unflinching recognition of the fact that human beings used an inhuman weapon against their own kind.

"After the conference, Pelosi issued a brief statement to the effect that her visit to Hiroshima forcefully reminded her of the destructive power of a war and convinced her that it is an urgent challenge for all nations to promote peace and build a better world.

"She apparently attempted, from her own position, to respond to Kono's effort.

"There is inevitably a disappointment among A-bomb victims. The U.S. House speaker offered no apology for the bombings. Pelosi's visit raised no fresh hope for a major change in U.S. nuclear arms policy or for a new American initiative toward eliminating nuclear arms from the Earth.

"Still, we think Pelosi's visit to Hiroshima has huge significance, given that a great majority of Americans believe the atomic bombings were justified.

"Pelosi is regarded as particularly liberal among Democrats and keen to promote nuclear disarmament. But she visited Hiroshima as the representative of the U.S. House. Her visit to the city may cause her to be bitterly criticized by the U.S. public. We applaud her for showing great courage and integrity by going to Hiroshima.

"Debate on the meanings of historical events tends to degenerate into a fruitless argument, often because of nationalistic feelings on both sides. Instead of simplistic black-and-white arguments, we need serious efforts to understand the pain felt by the other side.

"We hope the sign of the cross Pelosi made in front of the A-bomb monument will be remembered as a sign of new U.S. willingness to do so."

By Editorial (Asahi Shimbun, 9/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/5/2008)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Egg Bank for Infertile Couples

"A nationwide group of fertility clinics will launch the nation's first "ova bank," a system into which registered women can donate ova at no cost to married couples seeking fertility treatment, it has been learned.

"The Japanese Institution for Standardizing Assisted Reproductive Technology (JISART), a group comprising 21 private fertility clinics, plans to begin asking for volunteer ova donors for the bank by the end of the year.

"The only way an infertile women--for reasons such as having had her ovaries removed on medical grounds--can get pregnant is through in vitro fertilization using eggs donated from another woman.

"But with the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) not permitting eggs to be used for IVF from anyone other than a married woman who would become the mother, IVF using donated ova has rarely been performed domestically.

"The United States has many commercial ova banks and several hundred Japanese couples are believed to have gone there to receive donated ova.

"Japan is moving to regulate ova donations, though slowly. In July, JISART formulated its own guidelines for carrying out IVF with sperm or ova provided by a third party.

"The ova bank is the next step on from this.

"Women donating ova to the bank would, in principle, be mothers aged younger than 35. JISART will set the condition that there must be no compensation for donating ova, except for medical fees and other accompanying costs.

"The personal information of the volunteer donor will be kept for 80 years after a child's birth so as to guarantee the child's right to know who his or her genetic mother is.

"Seven of the 21 JISART clinics have expressed their intention to perform IVF using donated ova and sperm.

"Four clinics have begun preparations to proceed with IVF treatment for nine infertile couples.

""We hope to recruit volunteers through the Internet and other media and establish a system--similar to a bone marrow bank--that would assist the infertile," JISART Chairman Katsuhiko Takahashi said.

"The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and JSOG are calling on JISART to show restraint before new laws are passed on the matter, but are basically taking a wait-and-see approach.

"However, Prof. Noriko Mizuno, a Civil Code expert at Tohoku University, is worried about the psychological effect on children when they find out that the mother that gave birth to them is not a blood relation.

""[The ova bank] gives priority to the wishes of patients being treated for infertility and doesn't take the children into account," Mizuno said."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (8/31/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/1/2008)