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September 2009

Mr Akira Kawamura is senior partner in Anderson Mori & Tomotsune (AMT), one of Tokyo’s “big four” firms - each of which now has around 400-500 lawyers, compared to around 50 just a decade ago. He is also Vice-President of the International Bar Association (IBA), a federation of law societies from 136 countries comprising over 20,000 members world-wide. Kawamura-sensei is also one of Sydney Law School’s distinguished alumni, obtaining an LLM here in 1979, and he is a founding Advisor to the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) as well as a generous donor for the ANJeL Akira Kawamura course prizes in Japanese Law. On 21 September he visited the new Law School building and spoke with staff and students about global legal practice, developments in Japan, and the work of the IBA.

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Japan has reintroduced a system involving lay participation in serious criminal trials. As discussed in several Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) events over recent years, this saiban’in system involves randomly selected ‘Lay Judges’ and professional career judges jointly assessing the facts to reach a verdict, as well as deciding on sentences. The model is more Continental European than Anglo-American, but a shared concern is to bring the justice system closer to citizens’ everyday life – a guiding principle in the Judicial Reform Council’s Final Recommendations issued in 2001. Diverse dimensions to greater popular participation throughout Japan’s legal process, including also my study of how the Japanese government organizes its litigation services beyond the criminal justice sphere, will be the subject of ANJeL’s third book from Edward Elgar (forthcoming around December 2010, co-edited with Leon Wolff and Kent Anderson).

Legislation establishing this saiban’in system was enacted in 2004, but implementation was delayed for five years to allow all stakeholders to get used to the idea and many practical implications. (For example, many of the ANJeL Judges-in-Residence sent to Australia by the Supreme Court of Japan have carefully compared how this country manages jury trials, especially in connection with the media.) The enactment illustrates my previous point that the former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led coalition had already shifted away from more conservative stances even before its dramatic loss of power in the general election on 30 August this year. Even more ironically, although the first saiban’in trial took place without apparent mishap earlier that month, campaigns by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and other then-Opposition parties drew on growing concerns among the general public about actually having to serve as Lay Judges. Hopefully, however, Japan's experience will become similar to Australia's - where the general public is quite negative about serving on juries, but individual jurors afterwards report that it was a worthwhile experience. (A similar pattern is also observed in the US.)

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Tezukayama University Professor Michelle Tan (who Commented recently on my previous blog on the new DPJ government and law reform) spoke with me on this topic at the big SOCAP (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) conference in Sydney over 25-6 August. Key conference themes were the impact of the GFC and world-wide recession, and the new nation-wide Australian Consumer Law reforms. We emphasised the need for Australia to unify consumer nation-wide by ‘trading up’ not only to best practice from among its states and territories, but also to emerging global standards. Our presentation compared developments in consumer policy/administration generally, product liability and safety, consumer credit and unfair contract terms, collective redress and consumer ADR. (Powerpoints and a related Working Paper are here, drawing on my various Submissions to aspects of Australia's current consumer law reform program.)

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Mainstream Australian media provided distressingly meager coverage of Japan’s exciting general election for the more powerful lower House of Representatives last Sunday, which saw a remarkable about-face. The centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) went from 115 to 308 seats, with allies SDP (the small leftover of the once-powerful Social Democratic Party) and the New Party Nippon taking another 7 and 3 seats respectively. Overall, these and other former Opposition parties took 340 seats, whereas the conservative ruling coalition suffered a massive defeat. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dropped to 119 seats, from 300 before the election (and 296 in 2005, the previous election called by Junichiro Kozumi who then retired as Prime Minister). The Komeito dropped from 31 to 21 seats, meaning that the former ruling coalition now only has 140 seats. In short, the tables have turned almost completely since 2005, in a country (in)famous for its aversion to abrupt changes in direction.

This blog posting is the first of several thinking through this result and some implications for policy and law reform in Japan.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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