Chief Justice TOKURA held a press conference upon his appointment, published his Inaugural Address(PDF:108KB), and answered questions from reporters as follows.
Upon assuming the office of Chief Justice, please give us a comment and tell us your wishes.
I am truly humbled to assume the heavy responsibility as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Needless to say, I have renewed my determination to sincerely fulfil my duties with a strong sense of responsibility and do my best.
The mission of courts is to properly and promptly solve legal disputes and protect rights and legal benefits, and at the same time to strengthen the "rule of law" in Japan. I believe that it is indispensable to obtain public confidence in the judicial system in order to establish the "rule of law." I would like to make constant efforts for achieving proper and prompt court proceedings together with court officials, including judges, who support the judicial system in courts nationwide, thereby increasing public confidence.
Please explain the current challenges of courts, such as infection control measures against COVID-19 and further utilization of IT in court procedures. Additionally, would you give us your view on the future of courts?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have faced difficulties in how to maintain court functions while avoiding infection risk under circumstances where that risk has continued to exist for a lengthy period of time. In this regard, through the latest amendment of the Code of Civil Procedure, it became legally possible to hold oral arguments remotely. Development of systems for the use of IT in this manner is very significant in the sense of developing infrastructure for maintaining court functions even amid expansion of infectious diseases. Regarding the use of IT in court procedures, or the use of IT in civil cases for the time being, it is important to develop an optimal system in the first place, of course, but it is also important to discuss the ideal management of civil cases on the premise of such system. The use of IT in court procedures directly enhances convenience at the point of contact with court users, but it also goes beyond that. I think that we are required to further improve court proceedings and procedures, such as streamlining, promotion of efficiency, and speeding up, through the use of IT. Another concern is the possibility that the quality and level of judges' physical and mental burden differ between the case where they read paper records and the case where they read computerized records on a display. Therefore, we may also need to discuss new proceedings models from this point of view. Accordingly, it is urgently necessary to review the current paper-based court proceedings and ways of rendering judgments. In that process, we will have to take into consideration the problem of the recent prolongation of proceedings for civil cases. I also expect active participation in the review process by young judges, who will play the central role in court procedures in the future.
Regarding the future of courts, due to globalization and increasing complications of socioeconomic activities and diversification of values among the people, the details of cases handled by courts are becoming more and more complicated and higher expertise has come to be required. Conflicts of values and interests behind cases are also increasingly intense. Therefore, courts must take into account these changes properly when solving disputes. In order to respond to such trends in recent cases, each judge has sincerely faced each case and has continued efforts to better him/herself, but I think it is necessary for the Supreme Court to further strengthen the system centered on the Legal Training and Research Institute of Japan to encourage judges' own efforts and assist them with the acquisition of information and knowledge contributing to the understanding of individual cases.
It is 13 years since the commencement of the Saiban-in system. As you have long been engaged in criminal trials, what do you think are the challenges of the system at present? From next year onward, younger people will also participate in the system. Would you give us your view on the influence and effects of the involvement of younger people?
The Saiban-in system has been stably operated thanks to public understanding and cooperation. In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and respect to all the people.
Increases in the percentage of refusers and decreases in the court attendance rate are pointed out as problems, but I understand that there have been no cases where the appointment of Saiban-ins was hindered or the composition of Saiban-ins was seriously biased. I think that it is very important for us to continue efforts to ensure public understanding and cooperation through steadily carrying out PR activities and making court proceedings easy-to-understand and less onerous, while keeping an eye on changes in circumstances.
From next year, young people aged 18 and 19 will also participate in the Saiban-in system. I think that involvement of younger people will increase the diversity of Saiban-ins and will further deepen deliberations. We expect that younger people, when appointed as Saiban-ins, will express their opinions from a fresh perspective without hesitation and that judges will endeavor to develop an environment to enable young Saiban-ins to present their opinions freely in deliberations.
On the other hand, under the Saiban-in system, pretrial arrangement proceedings are still prolonged. Each case may have grounds for prolongation, but the current status requiring a long period of time before commencing court proceedings cannot be overlooked, from the necessity to avoid the prolongation of detention of accused persons and to secure witnesses' memories. We need to analyze the causes of prolongation of proceedings and to, for example, review responses in such cases as where a court, public prosecutors, or defense counsel disagree with specific points at issue or the necessity of evidence, and consider the accuracy of the arrangement of issues to be achieved from a more practical perspective. Through such examinations from a new point of view, we must deal with the problem of the prolonging pretrial arrangement proceedings.
When analyzing factors for the prolongation of the court proceedings for civil trials and pretrial arrangement proceedings under the Saiban-in system, a means to pick up unsuccessful cases, analyze and verify underlining factors, and share the results thereof would be effective. However, it is not necessarily easy to adopt such means in light of the independence of trials and psychological burden of judges in charge. Nevertheless, cases where court proceedings or pretrial arrangement proceedings were eventually prolonged generally involve factors that would lead to the same results irrespective of the judges in charge. In that sense, the expression "unsuccessful cases" itself may not be appropriate. I would like to create an atmosphere in courts where these cases are not considered as failures attributable to specific judges in charge but as lessons and public assets to be shared among all judges.
Society is being diversified and there are people seeking relief under the Constitution. As the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is called the "guardian of the Constitution," would you give us your view on the Constitution?
From my experience some five years after becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court, I have the impression that not a few of recent cases relating to the Constitution have been very difficult, involving the issue of the balance between restrictions on rights guaranteed under the Constitution and democracy, or the issue of so-called legislative discretion.
Anyway, when a case requiring constitutional judgments is brought to the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court, a conclusion is made through deliberations among 15 judges. I would refrain from presenting my view on the Constitution as Chief Justice apart from concrete cases.
How do you spend your holidays? Please tell us your favorite words of wisdom or ideas, if any.
As I explained upon being appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I cherish the phrase "Ichigu o terasu" as a caution to myself. (This phrase summarizes the importance of individual persons identifying the significance of the given task in the given situation and exerting quiet, devoted efforts to it.) This serves as a caution to myself and at the same time reminds me of the necessity to have respect for people who are fulfilling their responsibilities in their respective positions in society and for the nation, not limited to those working in courts.
Over the last five years, I have sometimes read materials for cases carefully at home on holidays, but I am not at all opposed to doing physical exercise outdoors and enjoy walking also for maintaining good health. I also came to enjoy exploring towns and streets and started a challenge to trek along Tokaido Road, which many people are enjoying, several years ago. However, as it takes longer and longer to get to where I stopped the last time, it's become difficult to find enough time, and also due to the spread of COVID-19, I have been staying at Kuwanajuku for a lengthened period. I would like to resume my challenge some day in the future.
I also enjoy reading books. I buy easy-to-read pocket-sized paperbacks of all kinds, not limited to railway-related ones, that catch my eye at bookstores and read them when I have time.
I am also interested in railways, especially in old railway cars that had run in the Showa era, and I have visited the Railway Museum, Usuitouge Railway Heritage Park, and other places where old railway cars, such as those of the Oigawa Railway, have been preserved. While I was refraining from going out and was staying home due to COVID-19, I came to buy railway-related books through net auctions and have collected a good number of such books published around 50 to 60 years ago.