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January 2013

The 10th Asian Law Institute (ASLI) conference will take place in Bangalore at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) over 23-24 May 2013. The following is an accepted panel proposal drafted primarily by Dr Dan Puchniak, ANJeL-in-ASEAN Convenor (NUS):

In autumn 2009, the progressive coalition led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) achieved a historic victory in the general election and came to power, expelling the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had been in power continuously since its establishment in 1955 (except for a very brief break in the early 1990s). The new DPJ-led coalition intended to make the policy-making process more transparent and more strongly controlled by politicians, as well as to make the policy orientation of the Japanese government more progressive. After three years, the polls showed significant discontent among the public with the DPJ’s achievements, and power reverted to the LDP in the December 2012 general election.

It is timely for legal academics to examine whether, and in which sense, the DPJ-government affected law reform over the last three years. In this context, Nottage and Kozuka will explain how—perhaps, quite unexpectedly—the historic political turnover in Japan (“macro-politics”) has had a limited influence on important reforms that are taking place in the field of Japanese contract law. In contrast, however, the process of contract law reform has been substantially influenced by the politicking of lawyers and professional bureaucrats (“micro-politics”) who have a personal stake in the reform process. Ultimately, based on this experience, Nottage and Kozuka suggest that micro-politics is more important than macro-politics in Japan’s legal reform process.

Matsunaka will continue the discussion of politics and legal reform by analyzing the new round of corporate law reform, which was initially driven by the strong policy agendas of several DPJ members. As the corporate law reform deliberations progressed, however, the debates increasingly became dominated by elite academics and MOJ officials and, ultimately, the reforms now appear to reflect little, if any, of the DPJ’s core values. Matsunaka’s analysis of this “watering-down” of the DPJ’s policy based reforms provides an interesting perspective on Japan’s legal reform process and contributes to the broad literature on the politics of corporate governance law reform.

Kozuka will then extend on Matsunaka’s analysis by examining Japan’s recent reform of its broadcasting regulation, which was one of the most important agendas for the DPJ when it first came to power. Again, Kozuka’s findings suggest that the more extreme policy based positions of the DPJ gradually faded in the process of law reform, with the final result being more technical and modest deregulatory reforms in the new Broadcasting Law of 2010.

Puchniak will conclude the discussion by examining the recent introduction of the business judgment rule into Japanese corporate law. At least based on conventional wisdom, the fact that the business judgment rule—which is of critical importance in corporate law—was introduced into Japanese law purely through judicial precedent (without any mention of it in Japan’s codified/statutory corporate law) is astounding. Puchniak’s analysis of this unanticipated source of law reform in the DPJ era will shine a light on a substantial blind-spot in both the current understanding of Japanese legal reform and the more general comparative corporate law literature.

In sum, these four presentations offer a good opportunity to discuss the relationship between the political process and law reform, policy choice through the judiciary and the determinants of the role of law in a post-industrial society in Asia.

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Written by Joel Rheuben (University of Tokyo)

After facing more than a year of deadlock in the Diet and a legislative agenda monopolised by earthquake recovery measures and the increase in the consumption tax, the outgoing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Government has left in its wake a mess of unfinished business in a number of legislative areas. One of these areas is public law reform. The DPJ had been elected in 2009 on a platform of change after the long reign of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and had promised a new era of government transparency and accountability. Behind the early pageantry of the “Government Revitalization Unit”, in which ministers publicly grilled senior civil servants over their agencies’ expenditure, the DPJ worked diligently to bring about much-needed change in matters such as local government, the civil service, freedom of information and administrative appeals.

With a more than comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and the passage of several of the more critical recovery measures out of the way, it remains to be seen which, if any, of the DPJ’s public law reforms the presumptive prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will run with. The LDP’s election manifesto calls for “administrative reform”, but is short on detail. However, the tenor of Mr Abe’s previous prime ministership (from September 2006 to September 2007) gives an indication of Mr Abe’s likely priorities.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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