Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Supreme Court seats

"The true purpose of judicial reform, of which the citizen judge system to be introduced this May is a key pillar, is to open the administration of justice to the public eye. In that sense, there is still one phase of reform that must not be overlooked. Namely, bringing the appointments of the 15 justices on the Supreme Court out from behind closed doors.

"Under the Constitution, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is designated by the Cabinet and then officially appointed by the emperor. The other 14 justices are appointed directly by the Cabinet. Despite this provision, however, no stipulations are made regarding the specific method of selection.

"In November, Hironobu Takesaki was appointed to serve as the Supreme Court's 17th chief justice. Again, however, insufficient explanation was given on how he was chosen. Takesaki is the ninth consecutive court judge to be named chief justice over the past 30 years. By all appearances, therefore, some sort of pecking order is at work. Prior to that, judges, scholars, attorneys and public prosecutors were chosen to fill that post.

"The chief justice is not the only post decided in closed-door sessions. The current members of the Supreme Court consist of six who served as judges, four as attorneys, two as prosecutors, two as bureaucrats, and an individual from legal academia. For all practical purposes, these quotas have become fixed.

"In principle, the Cabinet pares down the candidate list when appointing bureaucrats to these judicial positions. With those from the legal profession, however, the actual practice is to ratify candidates named by the presiding chief justice.

"In the United States, the president nominates Supreme Court justices. The power to approve the appointments lies with the Senate, which holds nomination hearings to review each candidate.

"This approach stands in sharp contrast to Japan, where the public remains in the dark about the selection procedures.

"The Judicial System Reform Council addressed this problem in 2001 by calling for more transparency in the appointment process so as to raise the trust of ordinary citizens in Supreme Court justices. However, the judicial system reform promotion headquarters, the government body in charge of bringing such concepts to fruition at the time, failed to compile a proposal for action.

"The citizen judge system, law schools, the Japan Legal Support Center and a steady stream of other institutional reforms have been introduced to better familiarize citizens with the nuts and bolts of how justice is administered.

"The appointment credentials for Supreme Court justices are stated as being persons age 40 or above possessing high principles and knowledge of the law. Clearly, candidates should be selected from a more diversified personnel pool, using methods clearly visible to the public eye.

"Throughout the postwar era, there have been only eight instances in which the Supreme Court declared laws unconstitutional. In view of this, more detailed selection criteria could also be expected to help transform the Supreme Court into a body characterized by a more aggressive stance toward constitutional rulings.

"Four times in the past, revisions have been proposed to the Diet to establish an appointment advisory council for the Cabinet comprised of persons from legal circles, Diet members, experts and others. Such a body would select multiple numbers of Supreme Court justice candidates and submit the list to the Cabinet.

"With the start of the citizen judge system, this is a year in which judicial reform is moving into full swing. The time is thus truly ripe for lawmakers to embark on serious examinations of the issues at hand, including reconsideration of this legal revision. "

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 1/14/2009), Link to article (last visited 1/20/2009)

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