Friday, September 14, 2012

National Legal Examination 2012

"The pass rate of the national bar exam for applicants who passed the preliminary qualification test was nearly 70 percent this year, a clear contrast to the rate of about 25 percent for law school graduates, according to the Justice Ministry's National Bar Examination Commission.
"The panel announced Tuesday that the number of applicants who passed this year's bar exam increased by 39 to 2,102, ending a fifth straight year of decline until last year.
"When the new bar exam was introduced in 2006, only law school graduates were allowed to sit for the exam. People who passed the preliminary test without completing law school courses were allowed to take the exam for the first time this year.
"The preliminary exam, which was introduced in fiscal 2011, aims to allow people who have not completed law school courses to take the new bar exam. The exam aims to judge whether applicants have knowledge or skills equivalent to those of law school graduates. It comprises a short-answer section, multiple-choice questions and an essay section. The pass rate for the first preliminary exam was 1.8 percent. Those who pass the exam can take the national bar exam up to three times within five years from the next fiscal year after they passed the exam.
"Initially, the national bar exam pass rate among law school graduates was predicted to be about 70 percent to 80 percent. However, the low pass rate may increase a feeling of disappointment toward law schools.
"The number of successful applicants was the largest since the introduction of the new bar exam. While the overall pass rate fell steadily for the five straight years until last year, the figure increased by 1.53 percentage points from last year to 25.06 percent this year.
"The pass rate for law school graduates was 24.62 percent, while that for the qualification test passers was 68.23 percent.
"The number of national bar exam takers this year decreased by 378 from last year to 8,387, the first decline of applicants since the new bar exam started.
"With fewer students applying to law schools, a growing number of schools have reduced their enrollments. This tendency caused a decline in the number of applicants for the bar exam, leading to a somewhat higher pass rate.
"Among the nation's 74 law schools, Chuo University's law school had the highest number of successful applicants at 202, followed by the law schools of the University of Tokyo at 194 and Keio University at 186.
"The total number of successful graduates from the top 10 law schools accounted for about 60 percent of all the successful applicants from the graduate schools for this year's bar exam.
"For 38 law schools, meanwhile, the number of successful graduates was zero or less than 10, clearly showing huge disparities among law schools. The average age among successful applicants was 28.54, with the youngest and oldest at 21 and 63.
"Meanwhile, among 85 people who took the bar exam after passing the preliminary exam, 58 passed. Out of the successful 58, there were 26 university students and eight law school students. Nearly 60 percent of them were in their 20s.
"In 2008, the government decided at a Cabinet meeting to try to strike a balance between the pass rate for law school graduates and that for those passing the preliminary exam. With the latest results in mind, the government likely will relax the criteria to pass the preliminary exam to increase the number of bar exam applicants who have passed the preliminary exam.
More may forgo law schools
By Mari Sugiura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
"The high pass rate of the national bar exam among applicants who passed the preliminary exam may accelerate the tendency for students to forgo law schools.
"The preliminary exam system was an exceptional system created for people who cannot afford to go to law school or those aiming to pass the bar exam while working.
"Instead of exempting successful applicants from completing law school courses, the preliminary exam sets a high standard.
"Considering that only 1.8 percent of applicants could pass the preliminary exam, it seems natural that such highly competitive applicants could achieve a high level of performance on the national bar exam.
"However, the latest results gave a strong impression that taking the preliminary exam could be a shortcut to the legal professions rather than going to law school, as only 25 percent of law school graduates could pass the bar exam on average despite the fact that many law schools have reduced their enrollments."
By Yomiuri Shimbun (9/13/2012), Link to the article (last visited 9/14/2012).

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Death penalty in Japan

"Junya Hattori, 40, was executed in Tokyo. Kyozo Matsumura, 31 in Osaka.

"They were the first killings under the administration of new Justice Minister Mokoto Taki, the fifth during Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda`s time in office.

"Hattori was convicted of attacking and raping a 19-year-old student who was cycling home from college in January 2002. He set her on fire while she was still conscious, killing her. Hattori was on parole after being sentenced for a violent robbery.

"Matsumura killed his 57-year-old aunt and his 72-year-old grand uncle in separate attacks in January 2007 and stole their money.

"Seven executions have been carried out since the Democratic Party of Japan took power two years ago. Executions in Japan are always by hanging and usual carried out in secret and without warning. Families are usually notified after the execution has taken place.

"The Justice Ministry is discussing whether to change the method of execution or to abolish the death penalty altogether. Makoto, who was appointed Justice Minister in June, says he supports the death penalty.

"Amnesty International says there are around 130 death-row inmate in Japan at imminent risk of execution. It says the secretive nature of the system means they may spend every day on death row fearing they could be killed at any time.

"France urged Japan to restore a moratorium on its use of the death penalty following the executions.

""France calls on Japan to follow the path of the 140 countries who have, in law or in practice, ended capital punishment by re-establishing its de facto moratorium while it continues a national debate on the future of the death penalty," a French foreign ministry spokesman said.

"Germany also condemned the hangings.

""I am shocked by the execution of two people in Japan and the way the executions were carried out," the German government's top human rights official, Markus Loening, said in a statement.

""I again call on the Japanese government to eliminate the death penalty. More than two-thirds of countries worldwide have turned their backs on this inhumane punishment."

"Roseann Rife, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International said: "Japan's leadership are choosing to hide behind public opinion rather than demonstrate leadership and work towards the abolition of this ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.""

By The Telegraph (3/8/2012), Link to the article (last visited 10/8/2012)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Lay judges' voices should be heard to improve system

"It will be three years later this month since the law to launch a lay judge system came into force. During the three-year period, about 28,000 people served as lay judges or substitute lay judges, and rulings were handed down to about 3,600 defendants.

"A survey by the Supreme Court on sentences given under the lay judge system has found that rulings for sexual crimes, such as rape and sexual assault, resulting in injury, tended to be harsher.

"Before the lay judge system was introduced, the most common sentences for sexual assault causing injuries called for imprisonment of between three years and five years. Under the lay judge system, however, imprisonment of between five years and seven years was handed down most often for such crimes. This appears to reflect lay judges' firm stance against heinous sexual crimes.

"On the contrary, the survey showed more suspended sentences were given in murder, arson and robbery resulting in injury cases under the lay judge system. Such rulings were handed down as lay judges expected defendants to rehabilitate themselves and they took the circumstances, such as fatigue from caring for family members, into consideration.

"Public sentiment reflected

"The survey findings appear to show the system's primary focus of reflecting public sentiment in rulings has been realized.

"A supplementary clause in the law on the lay judge system stipulates that improvements to the system are required three years after its introduction, if necessary. To allow the system to take root, the top court and the Justice Ministry need to play a central role in analyzing the current operation of the system and identify problems.

"As part of these efforts, district courts have taken the initiative to hold meetings in which people who served as lay judges can exchange views on the system.

"During a meeting at the Tokyo District Court on Wednesday, one participant said, "I had a hard time determining a sentence, as I had no expert knowledge," while another said, "I wanted more time to discuss the case." Some spoke of the difficulty of missing work to serve as lay judges.

""[Defendants'] lives are at stake. I can't deny that I thought it was a burden," and "It was difficult to judge evidence. It was stressful."--these are remarks made by lay judges, who faced difficult decisions on whether a defendant deserved a death penalty or acquittal, at a press conference after the defendant was sentenced to death.

"Lay judges need support

"The system is certain to create heavy burdens on lay judges, both physically and mentally. They may need to see graphic and disturbing photographs of crime scenes and other pieces of evidence. Is sufficient psychological care being provided for lay judges?

"A hotline set up by the top court for people who served as lay judges has received about 150 requests for counseling. Counselors and other professionals handle these requests. We hope these people's problems will be analyzed and the findings will be used to improve the system.

"Trials for criminal cases have changed significantly. Among the changes are pretrial arrangement proceedings to speed up court procedures by paring down issues and evidence before trials. We also applaud that members of the public have become more aware of judicial matters and take more of an interest in them.

"It is vital for professional judges, prosecutors and lawyers to commit themselves to making trials easy to understand for lay judges."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 5/18/2012), Link to the article (last visited 5/27/2012)

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Should female members retain royal status after marriage?

"Should female members of the Imperial family be allowed to create their own branches of the family and retain their royal status after marriage? If so, should the number of female members who receive the privilege be limited?

"The government has stepped up efforts to examine the issue to cope with the decline in Imperial family members. On Wednesday, the government held its first hearing on the issue at the Prime Minister's Office by meeting with journalist Soichiro Tahara and Akira Imatani, a Japanese culture professor at Teikyo University. The two expressed their approval of female branches of the Imperial family.

"Under the current system, female Imperial family members lose their royal status upon marrying commoners.

""I feel responsible for failing to revise the Imperial House Law seven years ago," an aide to the Emperor said before Wednesday's hearing, recalling a similar attempt to change the Imperial family system.

"In 2005, the administration of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tried to revise the Imperial House Law through his private expert panel.

""The state of the Imperial family's future should be decided by family members, but they may be unable to find a way to resolve the problem [of decreasing members] in time. It would be irresponsible for us to not take measures to allow female Imperial members to retain their status after marriage now," the aide said.

"Limited time for decision

"In 2005, almost 40 years had passed since the last male eligible to ascend to throne was born to the Imperial family, and people considered it a dire situation.

"The 2005 panel drew up a report recommending the government allow female Imperial members to take the throne, and granting rights of succession to the sons and daughters of a reigning empress, as well as her grandchildren.

"However, the report drew angry responses from those who feel only male family members should be allowed to take the throne. The movement lost momentum after the birth of Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Akishino, in September 2006. Prince Hisahito is the only grandson of the Imperial couple.

"Still, there is a possibility that the number of Imperial family members could decrease significantly in the near future. The 78-year-old Emperor, who underwent heart bypass surgery last month, has been suffering from health problems in recent years. He is said to be especially concerned about victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant--with the problem of sustaining the Imperial family adding to his mental stress.

"Considering the situation, the government has decided to discuss the issue of whether to allow female Imperial members to create their own branches. This would allow the family to maintain the level and range of Imperial duties and build a system in which the family would be able to sufficiently support the Emperor. However, the government has decided to focus only on whether to allow female members to create their own branches, separating the matter from the issue of the Imperial succession.

"Expand to what extent?

"The main point of contention will be whether to limit the number of female members eligible to create their own branches to an emperor's daughters and granddaughters, and whether men married to female Imperial members and their children should gain royal status.

"Currently, there are eight unmarried female family members. Princesses Aiko, Mako and Kako are direct descendants of the Emperor, while princesses Akiko, Yoko, Tsuguko, Noriko and Ayako are descendants of Prince Mikasa, son of Emperor Taisho and Emperor Showa's brother. Emperor Showa is the father of the current Emperor.

"If only an emperor's daughters and granddaughters are allowed to create their own branches of the family, princesses Akiko, Yoko, Tsuguko, Noriko and Ayako would be ineligible as they are great-grandchildren of Emperor Taisho.

"The financial burden on the government is one reason cited by those who favor limiting the number of female members eligible to create their own family branches.

"The government is in favor of giving royal status to men married to female Imperial members, because it is natural for them to live together with their wives and it will be necessary to limit their freedom of political activity if the female members retain their royal status after marriage.

"However, the issue of whether to give royal status to children of female members who married commoners is more sensitive, as the children will have a royal bloodline only on their mother's side. Currently, male Imperial members who have emperors on their father's side are in line for the throne.

"If the government begins discussing whether to give royal status to children of female Imperial members, it may reignite the 2005 debate, which ended in a deadlock. It focused on whether successors to the Imperial throne should be limited to only male Imperial members who have emperors on their father's side or expand the privilege to female Imperial members and those who have emperors on their mother's side. Some members of the government have proposed postponing the discussions.

"There are people who support the idea of giving royal status to descendants of former Imperial members who lost their royal status after World War II. However, the government is against the idea, saying it will be difficult to obtain public support as the descendants were born as commoners.

"According to sources, the government is currently discussing several proposals. The government plans to interview more than 10 experts on allowing female members of the family to create their own branches by holding hearings once or twice every month for about six months, as well as asking the public to give opinions on the issue."

By Takeshi Okimura and Katsumi Takahashi, Yomiuri Shimbun (3/2/2012), Link to article (last visited 3/9/2012)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Editorial on International Child Abduction

"A subcommittee of the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, has decided on a draft outline for necessary domestic laws for Japan's participation in the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets up expeditious procedures among member states to resolve child custody issues in failed international marriages. The government plans to submit bills on the matter to the Diet in March.

"The government needs to give sufficient consideration to protecting Japanese spouse's rights in revising current domestic laws or establishing new legislation, while respecting international rules.

"Under the terms of the treaty, if, for instance, a Japanese woman comes back to this country with her child who is under 16 years old without telling her non-Japanese husband or ex-husband, it will be regarded as an illegal abduction. When the husband or ex-husband demands the return of the child, the child in principle should be returned to his or her country of habitual residence after hearings in a Japanese family court.

"Conditions for refusal

"What is important here is to clarify the circumstances under which parents who have returned to Japan with their children can refuse demands to hand the children over.

"The convention only vaguely stipulates circumstances such as there being a "grave risk that the child's return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm" as constituting defenses against returning a child to the other parent.

"The draft outline lists concrete conditions under which Japanese parents can refuse the return of their children. Those include cases when the Japanese parent or the child is likely to become the victim of domestic violence by the non-Japanese parent or when the non-Japanese parent is unlikely to properly raise and take care of the child in the child's country of habitual residence.

"Many Japanese mothers and their children come back to Japan to escape domestic violence at the hands of foreign husbands. There are also parents whose divorce has cost them their residence status in the countries where they and their children had been living.

"Taking these circumstances into consideration, it is appropriate to define the conditions that would constitute defenses against the return of children if the stated conditions do not violate the intent of the convention.

"If a Japanese parent does not obey an order to return his or her child, the draft says, it will be possible for a court to take forcible steps to effect the child's return. Family court officers responsible for persuading Japanese parents to cooperate and communicating with the children will have an extremely important role to play.

"Foreign Ministry's roles

"Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry will assist non-Japanese parents in matters such as procedures in Japanese family courts.

"According to a draft of related bills compiled by the ministry, when foreign spouses or former spouses file requests for assistance with the ministry, it will ask relevant schools and local governments to provide information on Japanese spouses and children to determine where the children are.

"Schools and organizations that receive such inquiries will be required to "provide information without delay."

"The Foreign Ministry will establish a "central authority" to deal with the matter. It will be important for the ministry to closely coordinate and cooperate with other government ministries concerned.

"The related bills will also clearly stipulate how to handle cases in which children who lived in Japan are taken away by non-Japanese spouses to other countries. Japanese mothers or fathers will have to demand the return of their children in foreign courts in such cases.

"The Foreign Ministry will gather information on domestic laws concerning the convention in other participating countries and provide them to Japanese parents. It will also ask foreign governments to cooperate with Japan in this regard. The ministry must extend sufficient assistance to both Japanese and foreign parents concerned to realize the smooth return of children."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 1/24/2012), Link to article (last visited 1/26/2012)