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)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Editorial: All evidence should be released in criminal trials to prevent false convictions

"A court decision to retry a man who was convicted of a murder he claims he never committed has highlighted the need to fully release all evidence in criminal trials to prevent false convictions.

"The Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court on Nov. 30 decided to retry Shoji Maekawa, 46, who served a seven-year prison term for murdering a junior high school girl in Fukui 25 years ago.

"The court made the decision after scrutinizing evidence including that which was not released in the trials of Maekawa, and the decision should be regarded as appropriate.

"Maekawa has categorically denied any involvement in the murder since he was arrested in March 1987, one year after the incident. Since there was no hard evidence that directly linked him to the incident, the focal point at issue during his trials was the credibility of a few acquaintances' testimonies suggesting that he was involved in the incident.

"The Fukui District Court acquitted Maekawa after pointing out that there are inconsistencies and contradictions between testimonies provided by the witnesses. In response to an appeal filed by prosecutors, the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court overturned the lower court's acquittal and sentenced Maekawa to seven years in prison after deeming the witnesses' testimonies are credible, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court. After he served his prison term, Maekawa asked the high court to retry the case in July 2004.

"What overturned the confirmed ruling was new evidence that prosecutors released for the first time in response to demands by the legal team for Maekawa and advice by the court. The new evidence includes unclear testimonies provided by eyewitnesses and photos of an autopsy conducted on the victim's body.

"The high court examined the new evidence as well as evidence based on which Maekawa had been convicted in a comprehensive fashion. It then pointed to the possibility that a weapon other than one left at the murder scene was used for the crime and pointed out that no traces of blood were found in a car that Maekawa was supposed to have ridden in after the incident. The high court further raised questions about the credibility of the acquaintances' testimonies, and concluded that there are rational doubts about recognizing him as the culprit.

"Prosecutors have come under mounting pressure to release all evidence relating to the focal point during trials since the Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in 2004 prior to the introduction of the lay-judge system. Still, prosecutors are authorized to take custody of almost all evidence. In the Fukui murder case, there is no doubt that prosecutors had deliberately concealed evidence in favor of Maekawa.

"In the postal discount abuse case last year, a prosecutor at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation unit falsified evidence in an attempt to win conviction of the key defendant.

"The latest decision to open a retrial of Maekawa has highlighted the need to thoroughly review all evidence.

"A system should be created to mandate law enforcers to fully release evidence at least in the trials of serious crimes in which defendants deny their involvement as well as in retrials, instead of leaving a decision on how much evidence should be disclosed to the discretion of courts.

"The recording and filming of the questioning of suspects and defendants have already started on a trial basis, but the latest decision has illustrated the need to record or film the questioning of witnesses and others involved as well.

"Statements made by prosecutors and defendants and their lawyers have particular weight in lay-judge trials. However, the full release of evidence and the recording of questioning are indispensable to help lay judges selected from members of the general public make fair judgments.

"A quarter of a century has passed since Maekawa was arrested. In line with the principle of the benefit of the doubt, prosecutors should place priority on opening the retrial in order to get to the bottom of the incident rather than wasting time by appealing the high court's decision."

By Mainichi Shimbun (Editorial, 12/1/2011), Link to article (last visited 12/3/2011)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Constitutionality of the Lay Judge System in Japan

"The Grand Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the lay judge system in a ruling on a criminal trial where the system was disputed. The 15 justices voted unanimously on the system's constitutionality.

"This is the first Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the lay judge system since it was introduced in May 2009.

"The ruling was not unexpected given that the top court has strongly supported the system. The decision can be said to indicate a milestone for the system to take firm root in society.

"The defendant in the criminal trial, in which lay judges took part, was a Philippine woman accused of smuggling stimulant drugs into Japan. She was sentenced to an unsuspended prison term at Chiba District Court.

"In an appeal to the high court, the woman's defense lawyers argued that the participation of lay judges was unconstitutional as they were not professional judges and that the woman was not guilty. After the high court rejected her appeal, the woman appealed to the top court.

"No constitutional provision

"The woman's defense lawyers based their argument that the lay judge system was unconstitutional principally on a provision in the Constitution that states, "The judges of the inferior courts shall be appointed by the Cabinet from a list of persons nominated by the Supreme Court."

"They said the lay judge system, under which such judges are chosen from a list of eligible voters by drawing lots, runs counter to this provision.

"The Supreme Court pointed out the Constitution had no provision that a district court trial should be conducted only with professional judges.

"In its opinion, the court said, "When the Constitution was enacted, it was interpreted within the government that the court could also adopt the jury system or the joint judge-jury system." It therefore concluded that the Constitution does not prohibit the participation of citizens in a trial.

"It also is noteworthy that the top court handed down its judgment on other points that the woman's defense claimed were unconstitutional.

"With regard to the assertion the lay judge system infringed on the independence of professional judges, the Supreme Court said the system was set up to ensure a fair trial, with the professional judges being the fundamental pillar of that trial.

"'Servitude' claim rejected

"The defendant also argued that citizens serving as lay judges could constitute involuntary "servitude," which the Constitution prohibits. The top court said the lay judge system was flexible, as people could refuse to serve in this capacity.

"However, experts have pointed out that when the system was being worked out, various constitutional problems arose. The system was launched even though these problems were not thrashed out in debates.

"From the latest ruling, we can perceive the Supreme Court wants to settle the constitutionality of the lay judge system once and for all.

"Since the lay judge system was introduced 2-1/2 years ago, lay judges have carried out their obligations faithfully. It can be said the system has operated more or less steadily.

"Although the lay judge system has been ruled constitutional in the eyes of the law, it is still necessary for courts to give more consideration to reducing the burden on lay judges so that the system can take root even more firmly in society."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial 11/17/2011), Link to article (last visited 11/19/2011)

Call for Abstracts--Legal Symposium on LGBT Issues in Asia and Oceania

Symposium Announcement and Call for Papers

Rainbow Rising: Community, Solidarity, and Scholarship on Gender Identities and Sexualities in Asian and Oceanic Law & Policy

April 7, 2012
Honolulu, HI

We are pleased to invite you to attend a symposium, the first of its kind and magnitude: “Rainbow Rising: Community, Solidarity, and Scholarship on Gender Identities and Sexualities in Asian and Oceanic Law & Policy.” Rainbow Rising will be held at the William S. Richardson School of Law (Honolulu, HI) on Saturday, April 7, 2012, organized by the Law School’s Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal, Pacific-Asian Legal Studies Organization, and Lambda Law Student Association. The Symposium will facilitate a long-overdue dialogue on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues throughout Asia and Oceania and will be a venue for the sharing of ideas and experiences among scholars, politicians, and community activists in attendance. We aim for a conduit of cross-cultural intellectual exchange and concrete results for GLBT communities throughout the Asia and Oceania regions.

The Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal is concurrently seeking submissions for scholarship to be published in conjunction with the Symposium. Any paper pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal issues throughout Asia and Oceania will be considered. Selected authors will be invited to present their work in a panel as part of the Symposium, and, funding permitting, provided a partial travel stipend. The deadline for submission is December 15, 2011. Submissions must include a CV, and may be in the form of an abstract of no more than 500 words or already completed, but unpublished paper. If submitting a complete paper, please also include an abstract. Please submit papers and address any questions to the Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal at or call (808) 956-8895.

Whether as a contributor or as an attendee, we hope you will join in what promises to be a full and exciting program in Honolulu!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Children born outside marriage have same inheritance rights as those under wedlock: court

"OSAKA -- An appeal court has ruled that a Civil Code provision that children born outside of marriage can inherit only half the amount of their parents' assets that those born in wedlock are entitled to is unconstitutional, sources close to the case have revealed.

"The Osaka High Court determined that a child of a deceased man born out of wedlock can inherit the same amount of assets as the man's three legitimate children.

""The legislative branch's failure to rectify the difference between children born in and out of wedlock goes beyond the boundary of its discretionary power," Presiding Judge Yoshifumi Akanishi said as he handed down the ruling.

"The ruling goes against the Supreme Court's decision in 1995 that the Civil Code clause is constitutional.

"Akanishi pointed out that views on family relations have diversified among members of the public, and ruled that the Civil Code provision runs counter to the constitutional guarantee of equality under law.

""The difference in the legal treatment of children born in and out of wedlock could contribute to discrimination," the judge said.

"The high court ruled on an appeal filed by the man's child outside of marriage against the Osaka Family Court's decision on the division of assets left by his father who died in 2008.

"The deceased man had a wife, three legitimate children and a child born outside of marriage.

"The man's wife filed an application with the family court in May last year for arbitration on the division of his assets between the members of his bereaved family. However, after they failed to reach an agreement, they asked the court to determine the amount that they would inherit.

"The lower court divided the man's assets in accordance with the Civil Code provision, but the child out of wedlock appealed the decision to the high court."

Mainichi Shimbun (10/4/2011), Link to article (last visited 10/6/2011)

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Law school reform needed to boost bar exam pass rate

"More and more in recent years, a law school diploma does not necessarily open the door to a career in that field.

"This year, 2,063 people passed the new bar examination, 11 fewer than last year and a pass rate of 23.54 percent. This percentage has declined for five straight years since the new bar exam started in 2006.

"At a Cabinet meeting nine years ago, the government approved a plan to increase the number of people who pass the new bar exam to 3,000 by 2010. However, this year's figure, like those in recent years, fell far short of this goal.

"Since former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's Cabinet, the government has been pushing judicial reform along with administrative reform to reduce the number of public servants, and transform our society of ex ante regulations created by the administration into one that provides retroactive judicial relief.

"This is also an opportunity to make the judicial system more accessible to the public so they can more easily seek legal help to deal with daily troubles. This would also make the system more dependable and better able to protect people's rights.

"A large increase in legal professionals is essential for achieving such goals for the nation's institutional structure. More legal professionals than ever are needed to solve legal problems stemming from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

"More legal pros needed

"It is crucial to increase the number of applicants who pass the new bar exam to 3,000 as soon as possible. To achieve this, the government should give priority to reforming the nation's law schools.

"Seventy-four law schools are scattered across Japan, which has made enrollment easier. However, the percentage of students who pass the new bar exam remains low at an increasing number of law schools. This deters potential new students, which in turn starts a vicious cycle of deteriorating passing percentages.

"For instance, Himeji Dokkyo University stopped accepting applications to its law school this academic year, and the consolidation of the law school at Toin University of Yokohama and Omiya Law School has been decided.

"The culling of law schools through consolidations and closures will continue to be unavoidable in the future.

"Free up curriculums

"Law schools are established with the ideals of emphasizing practical education and creating work-ready legal professionals. However, the current situation has a problem in that the schools are not allowed to teach curriculums that specialize in preparations for the bar exam.

"The chief ambition of law school students is to pass the bar exam. Law schools also need to help many students pass the exam and publicize this success from their own business viewpoint.

"To bridge the gap between the ideal and reality, we think law schools should be granted more freedom in designing their curriculums.

"The questions in the new bar exam also need to be reviewed. The new exam was based on evaluations of the old bar exam, which applicants could not pass without intense cramming. However, the situation remains largely unchanged.

"The Justice Ministry is in charge of the new bar exam, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry supervises law schools. To reform the whole system, cooperation between the two ministries will be the most important factor."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 9/15/2011), Link to the article (last visited 9/16/2011)

Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 Bar Exam

"The pass rate for the revised bar exam hit a record low this year at 23.5 percent, the Ministry of Justice has announced, with the number of successful applicants far below a government target.

"In 2002, through a Cabinet decision the government set a target of 3,000 successful applicants a year. This year's exam passers numbered 2,063, falling below the goal and marking a fifth straight year of decline.

"There were 11 fewer successful applicants this year than last year. They were composed of 1,585 men and 478 women, according to the ministry's announcement on Sept. 8.

"The current, revamped bar exam was introduced in 2006 with the aim of boosting the number of legal professionals. The previous exam had a pass rate of only 2 to 3 percent.

"This year 3,620 students enrolled in law schools across the nation. This is nearly 40 percent lower than the 5,767 students that enrolled in 2004, which is the year the law school system was introduced by the government.

"The drop is particularly large amongst those entering law school after experience in the workforce. Compared to 2004, they were down more than 70 percent, from 2,792 to 764. It demonstrates that one of the hopes of the reforms -- accepting people from a wide range of fields into the legal profession -- is being undermined.

"Even after passing the bar exam, landing a job in the legal community is not easy. According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, 40 percent of legal apprentices who planned for employment this fall still had not secured jobs as of July.

""My parents paid for my expenses (while I prepared for the bar exam). Only those with comfortable amounts of money can concentrate on studying," said a 27-year-old man who passed this year's bar exam on his third try after finishing Dokkyo Law School. "I want to become a lawyer, but I'm worried because of the hiring slump."

"Alarmed by the situation, the government has opened a forum that crosses ministries and agencies to discuss how to improve the quality of education at law schools.

""The current situation poses a threat to the goal of the judicial system reform to nurture a large number of highly qualified legal experts," said a concerned official."

By Mainichi Shimbun (9/9/2011), Link to article (last visited 9/12/2011)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"14 children pronounced brain dead in past year did not donate organs despite legal changes

"Headlines were made across Japan in April when a child pronounced brain dead became the first and so far only child to donate organs under legal changes implemented in July 2010. A Mainichi survey has discovered, however, that at least 14 other children have been pronounced brain dead over the past year but did not donate any organs.

"The Mainichi survey -- conducted July 1-15 and receiving responses from 46 of the 56 medical institutions across Japan queried -- found that children had been pronounced brain dead at 11 facilities. Organ donations were not performed, however, due mainly to lack of parental consent or doctors failing to mention the possibility of donations. Particularly in cases of very small children, there was unwillingness among parents and doctors to equate brain death with the death of the patient, the survey showed.

"Organ transplants from brain dead children aged 15 and under became legal under revisions to the Organ Transplant Law that went into effect on July 17 last year.

"Among the 14 children revealed in the survey to have been pronounced brain dead, four did not make donations because parents would not consent, four because attending physicians could not bring themselves to suggest organ donation to the grieving family, two because doctors could not rule out that the child had been physically abused at home, and one because the doctor chose not to mention donations for medical reasons.

"Regarding the fact that just one brain dead child has donated organs in the past year, half the respondents said they had expected such a low figure, citing "parents' inability to accept that their child is brain dead" and "difficulty in ascertaining the role of physical abuse in a child patient's brain death," among other possible reasons.

"As of Feb. 1 this year, there are 303 medical institutions in Japan that openly perform organ transplants from brain dead donors aged 18 and over. Transplants from brain dead children are technically possible at all these facilities, though only 56 have declared their willingness to perform such procedures."

By Mainichi Shimbun (7/18/2011), Link to article (last visited 7/19/2011)

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Japan needs effective system for Hague child-custody treaty

"In line with Japan's decision to join the Hague Convention on child custody, work to create necessary domestic legislation is about to start at government organs like the Legislative Council of the Justice Ministry.

"The international agreement is designed to deal mainly with cross-border "abductions" by parents related to broken international marriages. If an international marriage collapses and one of the parents leaves the country with their child without consent from the other one, the treaty requires the return of the child to the country and the determination of the issue of custody according to the country's legal procedures.

"In a May Cabinet meeting, the government formally decided to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. One key question is how to deal with cases in which the return of the child to the country of his or her habitual residence could undermine the welfare of the child.

"If, for instance, a Japanese wife returns to Japan with her child to escape from her foreign husband's violence or persecution, should the child still be returned to the country?

"At the time of the Cabinet approval of Japan's participation in the pact, the government specified several conditions that will allow it to refuse the return of the child under the law. They include: The child has suffered from the father's violence; the husband has exercised violence against the wife in a way that has seriously traumatized the child; the wife cannot go with the child due to financial and other reasons and there is no appropriate person in the country who can take care of the child.

"Some critics say these exceptional clauses would strip the teeth from the treaty. But these provisos are based on relevant court decisions made in countries that are parties to the treaty.

"The government needs to explain the intentions of these clauses carefully to prevent misunderstandings that could undermine international confidence in Japan.

"Whether specific cases meet any of the conditions that enable the government to refuse the return of the child will be determined by family courts in Japan, according to the government's plan.

"There are some important questions that need to be answered through in-depth discussions on actual cases. What kind of evidence is needed to prove the exercise of violence in a foreign country, for instance? What does the phrase "seriously traumatized" exactly mean?

"An accumulation of precedents would foster stability in court decisions on such cases and promote public understanding of the issue.

"Debate is also needed on the duties of the "Central Authority," which is supposed to play the central role in the proceedings for the return of the child.

"Under the treaty, the Central Authority is obliged to perform such functions as locating and protecting the child, providing information and advice to the parties concerned for the settlement of the dispute and securing the safe return of the child to the other country.

"None of these is an easy task. Some of the contracting countries post photos of children on the Internet to find them. But that wouldn't be acceptable in Japan.

"What kind of powers and information in the possession of public institutions should be used for carrying out these tasks? Should police also become involved?

"The Foreign Ministry, which will be designated as Japan's Central Authority for dealing with cases according to the treaty, needs to define its roles and responsibilities carefully by learning from the experiences of experts handling various cases of family disputes and listening to the views of the public.

"Japan will have to fulfill the obligations of a signatory country. But smooth enforcement of the law will be impossible unless there are clear ideas about actual implementation that are shared by all of society and enjoy broad public support.

"There will also be cases in which Japan demands the return of a child who has been taken to another country.

"There are no significant differences in parental love for children between fathers and mothers.

"Japan needs to establish a system that can deal effectively with cases under the Hague Convention. The system should not favor specific positions or viewpoints and should put the priority on the child's happiness."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 7/12/2011), Link to article (last visited 7/18/2011)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Top court rules order to stand for anthem constitutional

"The top court for the first time ruled on May 30 that it is constitutional for a principal to order a school's teachers to stand for the singing of the Japanese "Kimigayo" national anthem at the school's graduation ceremony.

"The decision is expected to affect similar lawsuits as well as school policies around the country.

"The lawsuit was filed by a 64-year-old former teacher of a Tokyo metropolitan high school who was reprimanded for not standing and facing the Hinomaru national flag while the "Kimigayo" was sung at the graduation ceremony in March 2004.

"The teacher was refused re-employment as a contract worker when he reached retirement age in March 2007. He filed the suit, seeking damages from the metropolitan government.

"The Tokyo District Court in January 2009 ruled that the principal's order was constitutional. But the court ordered the metropolitan government to pay about 2.1 million yen ($25,980), saying it abused its discretionary power because he followed the principal's orders after March 2004.

"The Tokyo High Court in October 2009 rejected the plaintiff's claims, saying that the metropolitan government has broad discretionary powers, and the former teacher appealed the ruling.

"On May 30, the Supreme Court said the order to stand for the national anthem does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.

"The Second Petty Bench said it is difficult to consider the act of standing for the "Kimigayo" an expression of a specific thought or a thought against it.

"The ruling said the order does not force or forbid a specific thought and does not immediately restrict an individual's freedom of thought and conscience."

By Asahi Shimbun (5/31/2011), Link to article (last visited 5/31/2011)

"Law change targets abuse by parents

"A bill enacted Friday will allow courts to suspend parental rights for up to two years, rather than the indefinite term currently allowed, with the aim of better protecting children from abuse by their parents.

"The Civil Code currently allows family courts to suspend parental rights for an unspecified period, but the measure has rarely been implemented due to concerns about the potential impact of indefinite suspensions on parent-child relationships.

"Introducing the two-year limit is intended to improve the legal system's effectiveness in protecting children from abuse.

"The bill to revise the Civil Code, the Child Welfare Law and other related laws was unanimously approved at a plenary session of the House of Councillors, having been passed by the House of Representatives last month.

"The revised laws will be enforced from April next year or later.

"Under the revised Civil Code, family courts will be able to suspend parental rights for a period of up to two years. It will be possible to extend the period of suspension, depending on certain factors.

"The revised code also will make it easier for parental rights to minors to be assigned to corporations operating child welfare facilities or to groups of people."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (5/28/2011), Link to article (last visited 5/31/2011)