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Editorial: Japan’s review of top court justices a chance to evaluate judiciary

  • October 28, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

A national review of Supreme Court justices in Japan will be held on the same day as the House of Representatives election on Oct. 31. Voters can mark an X for justices who they think should step down, and if it exceeds half of the valid ballots, the justices will be dismissed. A circle or any other marks will be invalid.


It’s an opportunity for the public to show their evaluation of the judicial system by examining justices’ suitability. Voters should think carefully and cast their ballots.


The Supreme Court is referred to as “the guardian of the Constitution” determining whether laws enacted by the Diet and administrative orders violate the Constitution of Japan. It also plays the role of drawing final conclusions on legal disputes and application of punishments. As a precedent, the ruling handed by the Supreme Court becomes a social rule and affects the lives of the people.


Eleven of the 15 justices will be subject to the Oct. 31 national review — the largest number in history, excluding when all the justices were assessed in the first national review in 1949.


The basis for assessment is the way of thinking each justice has shown in the trials they were involved in. The top court’s ruling is decided by majority opinion, and each justice’s pros and cons as well as their reasons for the decision are clarified.


For example, seven of the 11 justices were involved in the June ruling on legal provisions on married couples’ surnames, which denied the option of choosing separate surnames between married couples. Four justices said that the provisions of the Civil Code, which require Japanese couples to assume a unified single surname upon marriage, were constitutional, while three justices deemed it unconstitutional.


Such information can be found on the top court’s official website and elsewhere. News outlets introduce the justices by writing about their career history, their stances and personalities based on questionnaires.


Although a total of 179 justices have been examined under the system, none of them were dismissed, and it has been pointed out that the review has been reduced to a formality. Even the justice with the highest percentage of X marks in the past only received them in 15.17% of valid votes.


Discussions for the review system’s improvement are essential as it’s the only means by which the public can directly express their opinion of what the judiciary should be like. A revision to the current method, in which a blank ballot is considered to demonstrate “confidence” in the justices, should also be considered.


In fact, the lack of transparency in the process of appointing Supreme Court justices may be one of the reasons people’s interest in the system has not increased in the first place. The Cabinet is responsible for providing careful explanations on why and how they were chosen.


It is also necessary to make efforts so the public can become familiar with the Supreme Court. Twelve years have passed since the lay judge system was introduced in Japan, but the judiciary still appears distant to many people.


In recent years, the Supreme Court has been distributing documents outlining trials and their points of contention to observers at the court. In the future, the introduction of an online streaming system allowing many people to observe trials is also a task in need of consideration.

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