The U.S. has 389 while Japan has 29. These are the numbers of legal professionals for every 100,000 people. So the U.S. figure is 13 times that of the Japan figure. It has long been pointed out that Japan has few lawyers compared with Western countries, so the judicial system has been subject to reforms aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of lawyers, yet the gap remains large. Moreover, 93% of law schools in Japan have fewer students enrolled than their quotas. Reforms to raise the competitiveness of Japan’s legal profession are essential.
1. Increase the number of legal personnel and actively expand the fields they can work in. Weed out poorly-performing law schools and enhance competitiveness. Get rid of graduate schools whose sole purpose is to get students through the bar exam
Reforms of the judicial system have led to an increase in the number of people passing the bar exam. As a result, people who have passed the exam are finding it difficult to get hired as lawyers. Organizations such as the Japan Bar Association have called for the number of people passing the exam to be reduced. Yet it’s an overstatement to say that a lawyer population 1/14th the size of that of the U.S. one and 1/8th the size of that of the U.K. has “increased too rapidly.” The key point is that opportunities for legal professionals need to be increase. Quality and quantity in Japan’s legal profession should be increased by diversifying the human resources supplied to the legal profession and ensuring that legal professionals are fully employed.
Next, Japan’s law school system can be said to have been an abject failure. In recent years many of them have failed to meet their quotas, and the number of people enrolling has been dropping by 500 each year. This is because the market has been flooded with uncompetitive law schools. Poorly-performing schools should therefore be weeded out. In addition, graduate schools should be transformed into ones without the sole objective of getting students through the bar exam, and they should be made more competitive. For example, they should admit lawyers who have already obtained a Japanese or foreign legal qualification to study international law or develop an area of expertise.
2. Ensure soundness in the behavior of prosecutors by introducing the principle of bail and making questioning completely transparent
The special investigation department of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office has long been hailed as “Japan’s most powerful investigative organ,” yet it’s fair to say that confidence in prosecutors has been lost in recent years due to a series of scandals. Reform of the prosecution system to make the governance of prosecutors and special investigation departments is therefore essential. In addition, with regard to questioning, suspects who deny their guilt do not receive bail, yet they receive bail easily if they confess. This makes it very easy to extract confessions. To avoid this system of “hostage justice,” the system should be changed to generally allow bail except in the case of serious crimes. In addition, part or all of the process of questioning suspects should be videoed to provide full transparency. On short, soundness in the behavior of prosecutors must be secured.
3. Allow defendants to opt for the lay judge system and train judges in a way that reflects how the world works
The lay judge system was introduced with the aim of fulfilling the noble goal of having citizens participate in judicial affairs, but has turned out to be a system that fails to serve citizens, defendants, and lawyers. One solution could be to switch to an “optional lay judge system” whereby defendants choose whether to be tried by lay judges or by professional judges. Allowing defendants to opt for a lay judge trial would not only safeguard their rights (speeding up trials and avoiding distorted sentencing based on the “sense of ordinary people,” it would also relieve the heavy burden on lay judges. In addition, regarding the careers of judges, personnel reforms are needed to ensure that the way the world works is reflected. For example, more female judges need to be appointed, interaction with the private sector needs to be increased, and so on.
4. Export Japan’s legal system overseas
Due to its massive fiscal deficit, the assistance that Japan can provide overseas in terms of hard infrastructure is limited, yet the importance of assisting with the establishment of legal infrastructure is growing. If it could be possible, by exporting Japan’s legal system to developing countries etc. in the form of legal infrastructure assistance, to establish Japanese rules in countries that could become markets for Japan in the future, this would lead to the expansion of the Japanese economy, and also make Japanese legal professionals more competitive overseas. Such a policy should therefore be pursued aggressively.