Friday, April 16, 2010

Transparency in the Supreme Court: New Justice

"The government in March announced the appointment of Kiyoko Okabe, a professor at Keio University's law school, as a Supreme Court justice, effective Monday.

"It will be the first time for more than one woman to concurrently serve among the 15 justices. The other is Ryuko Sakurai.

"It is said that the Cabinet of Yukio Hatoyama has a keen interest in promoting a woman to take over from a retiring male justice. While this is welcome, it seems somewhat belated. Still, this development suggests that society is changing.

"At this juncture, we wish to point out that questions we always had have yet again gone unanswered. Why Okabe? As in past cases, the reasons for the appointment were not made public. What are the tasks that the judiciary must tackle? What is expected of Okabe and with what intent was the appointment made?

"With regard to the appointment of Supreme Court justices, when candidates are selected from among legal experts, it is customary for the Cabinet to accept the recommendation of the chief justice and in the case of intellectuals, the Cabinet takes the initiative and confirms the intent of the Supreme Court.

"This is wisdom that has been built with the independence of the judiciary in mind. While respecting the principle, we have been calling for greater transparency in the process. Increased transparency meets the philosophy of democracy and enhances trust for trials. When a planned appointment is dubious from the viewpoint of separation of powers, enhanced transparency would help voters discern its propriety.

"In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued a number of noteworthy rulings. Among them is the case which questioned the Public Offices Election Law that did not give Japanese citizens living abroad the right to vote and a spate of rulings that paved the way for reducing burdens on consumers struggling under high-interest loans. Of course, we find some rulings unconvincing. However, from a broad perspective, the top court rulings seem to be advancing in a direction that can win public support.

"It is the role of Supreme Court justices, each with a unique personality, to draw out such rulings. Having diversified people with different backgrounds, viewpoints and values on the bench activates debate and gives rise to rulings that meet the times and open up a new era.

"What we find worrisome is that the Supreme Court has been handling a large number of cases. As many as 10,000 cases are put before the top court each year. Even though the lineup of the bench may be diversified, it is questionable whether the justices are able to fulfill their roles as "guardians of the Constitution."

"Many retired justices complain that they were too busy, saying if they had been given more time, they might have been able to engage in more intensive discussions and reach different conclusions. The fact that they harbored such feelings close to regret weighs heavily.

"While the law restricts reasons for appeal to the top court, we don't think it is functioning as it should. While the court is increasingly expected to keep the administration and legislature in check, the number of appeals is expected to grow in response to an increase in the number of lawyers and other factors. Systems that look to the future are needed. Moreover, should the awareness of the judicial world remain as it is? We need to start debate based on a broad perspective.

"The Supreme Court is the last bastion to hear objections of minorities and protect human rights. The contents of rulings are important. At the same time, we should also pay more attention to the selection of justices, the environment surrounding them and how they perform their duties."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 4/15/2010), Link to article (last visited 4/17/2010)


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