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Friday, August 31, 2012

UC Hastings Hosts First Symposium on Japanese Legal Reform

UC Hastings is hosting the first-ever symposium to look at the successes and failures of efforts to reform the Japanese justice system Sept. 7, 2012.

Japan has the fewest lawyers per capita of any developed country. As such, Japanese citizens have difficulties accessing their justice system, which is largely self-regulated, tightly controlled, and lacks both transparency and a system of checks and balances.

At the behest of the Japanese business community and other reformers, the Japanese government established the Justice System Reform Council in July 1999. This year marks the 11th anniversary of reform efforts. Some have been successful, while others have lagged.

The conference is organized by Visiting Professor of Law Setsuo Miyazawa, who teaches a seminar on Introduction to Japanese Law at UC Hastings. The keynote speaker is one of the most prominent lawyers in Japan, Shunsuke Marushima. Marushima has been intimately involved in reform efforts as both a senior staff member in the Secretariat of the Justice System Reform Council and the Secretary General of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Prior to reforms, Japan had only about 12,000 practicing lawyers and no professional graduate-level law schools, Miyazawa explained. Admission to the practice was tightly controlled. The bar pass rate was only 1.5%.Law graduates applied to the judiciary immediately after their training, and thus very few judges in Japan have ever practiced law. So few attorneys were in Japan that often major corporations had no lawyers in their legal departments, Miyazawa said.

Access to justice is a serious issue for both civil and criminal matters. Without jury trials, few citizens understand the legal system. Cases are heard by panels of judges. Convictions require only simple majorities, even in death penalty cases.

Since the reforms went into effect, there has been no formal conference to review their successes and failures. The Sept. 7, 2012, conference marks both the first time such issues will be debated, and is the inaugural symposium of the East Asian Law Program at UC Hastings.

Organizers expect attendees from around the globe, as well as U.S. lawyers whose practice touches Japan.

The symposium has been underwritten by several generous donors, including the Michael A. Kelly ’76 International Enrichment Initiative and the Egusa Foundation for International Cooperation in the Social Sciences. Other donors include San Francisco lawyer Tomio Narita ’91; his firm, Simmonds & Narita LLP; the Arseny and Olga Kovshar Private Charitable Foundation. The Hastings International and Comparative Law Review will publish some of the conference papers in a symposium issue in April 2013.

Professor Miyazawa has been writing and teaching about Japanese legal reforms, both here and at Aoyama Gakuin University Law School. “I am committed to the reform of legal education and expanding the number and quality of judges,” he said. He also believes there need to be more attorneys in Japan. “No one else is shining a light on this,” he said. “Even the government didn’t hold any meetings to celebrate the 10th anniversary of reforms.”

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