Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Fight to keep legal trainees' salaries

"Efforts to continue the payment of monthly salaries to legal trainees have gained momentum ahead of the scheduled change to a system of loans on Nov. 1.

"Those who pass the bar exam train for one year at the Judicial Research and Training Institute before they decide whether to become prosecutors, judges or lawyers. During that year, trainees are paid about 200,000 yen monthly under the current system.

"This will change to a system of loans from Nov. 1, under which trainees can borrow from 180,000 yen to 280,000 yen monthly with no interest. The loans can be paid back in installments over a maximum of 10 years, with a five-year grace period.

"With only about 10 days remaining before the change, supporters of the salary system are trying to maintain it through a special procedure that would revise the Court Law without deliberations in the Diet.

"Others, however, strongly criticize the move to chip away at something that has already been decided, saying preservation of the salary system would run counter to efforts to reform the nation's judicial system.

""We've had considerable understanding from all political parties, except the Liberal Democratic Party," Japan Federation of Bar Associations President Kenji Utsunomiya told a regular press conference last Wednesday.

"The federation has been asking Diet members to revise the law to maintain the salary system for legal trainees, and postpone the enactment of the new system for three years.

""The loan system was created based on a target of increasing the number of successful bar exam applicants to about 3,000 a year," said Yoshiko Aibara, a deputy secretary general of the federation. "However, that target has not been reached and the number of people who want to join the legal profession has been decreasing.

""We need to reexamine all the reforms of the judicial system," Aibara said.

"Over the last several years, the government has provided nearly 10 billion yen for about 2,000 legal trainees. It was decided in 2004 to shift to the loan system, as an increase in legal professionals would increase the government's fiscal burden. The Court Law was revised to permit the enforcement of the loan system from Nov. 1.

"However, the legal affairs division of the Democratic Party of Japan's Policy Research Committee decided Sept. 13 to support the continuation of the salary system.

"New Komeito also is leaning toward agreeing to the bar federation's plan to delay enforcement for three years.

"The DPJ plans to submit a bill in the form of a proposal by the chairman of the the Judicial Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives or the House of Councillors.

"This is a kind of a lawmaker-sponsored bill that is submitted to the Diet after all parliamentary groups have agreed to the proposal in prior talks. Deliberations on the bill are essentially skipped, and it is approved unanimously.

"The DPJ expects this method to work, but it needs the LDP's cooperation to achieve unanimous approval.

"The LDP is expected to decide its position on the matter at a meeting of the party's Judicial Affairs Division scheduled for Wednesday. Utsunomiya attended the division's meeting Sept. 5 and strongly urged the salary system be retained.

""Because the state pays the salary, lawyers feel an obligation to serve the public," Utsunomiya said.

"Division Director Katsuei Hirasawa was skeptical, saying: "It's impossible to get the public to understand a system of paying the same salary to everyone, even to rich people." However, an increasing number of LDP Diet members support the federation's position, according to LDP sources.

"But there is also strong opposition to the move. According to the Supreme Court, 1,648 legal trainees, or 79 percent, of the 2,074 who passed the new version of the bar examination this year actually applied for loans.

""As quite a few trainees are wealthy, is it all right to pay them salaries using tax money without sufficient debate on continuing the system?" a senior Supreme Court official said.

""Some people are several million yen in debt due to such expenses as law school tuition," a 27-year-old legal trainee said.

""If fiscal conditions have to be taken into consideration, why doesn't the government exempt people who participate in public service from repaying the loans, such as working as lawyers in depopulated areas?" he proposed.

"Some in the judicial profession see continuing the salary system will dilute the judicial reforms aimed at increasing the number of those in the field.

""We have to try to increase the number of aspiring judicial professionals and successful applicants, in keeping with the trend of reform," said Kaoru Kamata, 62, vice head of the Japan Association of Law Schools.

"Kamata, who is to become president of Waseda University in early November, said, "If the salary system is maintained, the government will have to decrease the number of successful applicants due to budget considerations."

""Rather than maintaining the salary system, which will slow down the expansion of the judicial profession, they first should think about ways to increase the number of lawyers working at companies and local governments," said lawyer Hideaki Kubori, 66, a former president of the Daini Tokyo Bar Association and an expert on corporate legal affairs."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (10/20/2010), Link to article (last visited 10/20/2010)