Outline of the Press Conference by Chief Justice OTANI on Constitution Memorial Day

Supreme Court of Japan > About the Supreme Court > Topics > Outline of the Press Conference by Chief Justice OTANI on Constitution Memorial Day

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court OTANI held a press conference on the occasion of Constitution Memorial Day in which he answered questions from reporters following his address(PDF:191KB).

[Reporter]

My first question is about the novel coronavirus. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, economic conditions and the employment situation are becoming even more severe and the role of the court has become more and more significant for people who seek remedies. COVID-19 variants are spreading and the current situation with no end in sight may be prolonged. Could you explain again how the court will continue balancing infection control measures and case management?

[Chief Justice]

As I mentioned earlier in my address, the court considers it as a very important challenge to achieve the balance you mentioned with a view to the possibility of new types of conflicts arising amid the current pandemic. Under the current serious circumstances, it is the very time for the court to respond to the expectations of the general public and fulfill its responsibility by realizing the idea of rule of law through court proceedings, thereby securing a stable social foundation.
Since the lifting of last year's first declaration of a state of emergency, the court has obtained specialized knowledge in such fields as public health, and has taken basic infection control measures, while employing various operational attempts, which include positive utilization of telephone and web-conferences for proceedings, instead of requiring parties to appear in the court, and use of large rooms for the selection of Saiban-in (lay judges). Thanks to these efforts, we were able to continue judicial work without scaling it down even under the second declaration of a state of emergency in January 2021. Basically, we will maintain this stance and each court will continue their proceedings in the same manner. Further utilization of a web-conferencing system and other new tools is also expected.
The court is committed to making all-out efforts to make appropriate and flexible responses by further accumulating new knowledge on infection control measures, while keeping an eye on changes in infection statuses nationwide, with the aim of stably offering high-quality judicial services as a social foundation.

[Reporter]

I will ask you about the introduction of information technology (hereinafter, ''IT'') to judicial proceedings. As you have explained, web-conferences have already been introduced for civil cases and deliberations were commenced for criminal cases concerning the introduction of online warrant issuance proceedings. Information and communications technologies will surely mitigate the burdens of parties, but there are concerns over information security or over the existence of persons who are left behind in such moves. What do you think about the future course of introduction of IT? How should it be facilitated to make judicial proceedings friendly to the general public?

[Chief Justice]

As one of the impacts on society of the spread of the COVID-19 infection, it can be said that the dissemination of online tools came to be recognized among people. The introduction of IT to judicial proceedings, which has been carried forward backed by rapid development and dissemination of IT, will further increase people's expectations as an initiative to enhance court users' convenience in society where digitalization is being accelerated. We consider it necessary to deliberate the introduction of IT irrespective of case categories as a matter for the court as a whole.
On the other hand, we understand that there are concerns over information security and how we respond to people unfamiliar with IT, as you pointed out. Needless to say, special consideration is required for such points. Additionally, advantages of introduction of IT need to be examined meticulously in light of the characteristics of individual procedures, as specific advantages may differ by procedure.
Furthermore, in order to promote introduction of IT under a high-level idea of making the judiciary accessible to the general public, it is indispensable to correctly ascertain problems of the current court operations. The part "reviewing our conventional practice in operating court proceedings" in my address shows such awareness of the issue of the court.
It is of course necessary to conduct deliberations on introduction of IT speedily, but we would like to steadily take necessary procedures carefully with the awareness that introduction of IT to judicial proceedings is a multifaceted and multitiered reform.

[Reporter]

My question is about an initiative to achieve society in which diversity is respected. At present, some are seeking judicial judgments concerning same sex marriages or surnames for married couples to seek legal protection. There are growing expectations for court decisions on new forms of families to achieve a society in which people respect and accept diversity. How do you think the court and judges fulfill their roles in response to such voices of the people?

[Chief Justice]

I will refrain from making any comments on individual cases, but complicated family-related cases that are difficult to solve are increasing, as you mentioned, along with the diversification of values and notions of what a family should be like, and we recognize increasing interest and expectations of people toward the court that resolves legal conflicts from a neutral standpoint.
I cannot make any more detailed comments as each case involves different legal issues and backgrounds, but generally speaking, judges are expected to listen to the allegations of both sides on new social problems, including those you just mentioned, from a wide perspective, make appropriate determinations and present reasonable grounds therefor. For that purpose, it is important for judges to endeavor to increase their insights positively on a voluntary basis through their daily duties and lives at their workplaces or through various types of training and education. The court as a whole needs to develop a favorable environment therefor and assist judges with their efforts.

[Reporter]

I would like to ask you about means for oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
Recently, the Supreme Court has been showing an intention to make changes, such as delivering memos outlining cases, preparing explanatory charts, and demanding clarifications to parties. What is being intended through these changes? Or could you explain your opinion as to ideal oral arguments?

[Chief Justice]

This is a very big issue, but basically, various efforts being made for oral arguments at the Supreme Court, as you mentioned, are deeply related to our policy on how to achieve the idea of making the judiciary closer to the general public. However, on the other hand, this issue is also deeply related to the perspective of judicial proceedings, namely, how oral arguments function in the process at the Supreme Court. Accordingly, I understand that each petty bench and the grand bench of the Supreme Court have been discussing what are possible as new initiatives and implementing them independently from these two complex perspectives since several years ago.

[Reporter]

Relating to this issue, it was introduced during the last meeting that the United Kingdom completely adopted online procedures for oral arguments at its Supreme Court and made them available to the general public amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. You may also know that some say that this would be possible for oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Japan, where few privacy problems would arise. Do you have any such intention? If that is the case, what do you recognize as obstacles or conditions therefor, if any?

[Chief Justice]

I know that courts in some other countries, particularly the highest courts, distribute oral argument videos via the internet and that some foreign courts have started to carry out proceedings online or through telephone conferences due to the spread of the COVID-19 infection. However, when considering whether it is possible to introduce such procedures into the judiciary in Japan, we need to take into account the principle of public trial proceedings provided for by the Constitution of Japan. In particular, careful examinations and deliberations are required as to whether it is possible not to permit an observation in a courtroom but to distribute a video instead, as an infection control measure.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, this issue requires examinations from the perspective of achieving the idea of making the judiciary closer to the general public and the perspective of seeking preferable procedures for oral arguments. I did not explain in detail earlier, but from the perspective of achieving the idea of making the judiciary closer to the general public, I think it first necessary for the court to observe the establishment of those various attempts you mentioned earlier, such as the utilization of demanding clarification to parties, or the judges' control of proceedings to facilitate easy-to-understand oral arguments. In terms of judicial proceedings, oral arguments at the highest courts have been held based on legal systems and historical backgrounds of individual countries, including how to hold deliberations among judges before and after oral arguments and how to present grounds for final judgments. Accordingly, the roles of oral arguments seem to differ between countries with a legal system based on judicial precedents, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, and other countries. Individual countries have made efforts under their own circumstances, and I think that we should be cautious about evaluating the appropriateness of systems without taking into account the roles of oral arguments expected in respective countries. Furthermore, oral arguments at the Supreme Court are not separated from proceedings at lower instance courts. You said that oral arguments at the Supreme Court would pose few privacy problems, but they are not irrelevant to prior proceedings. Therefore, comprehensive examinations and deliberations are required for distributing videos of oral arguments. This is a very big issue, I think.
As you know, I recently had an opportunity to exchange opinions online with the President of the Supreme Court and other judicial executives of the United Kingdom. Apart from the pandemic, we will have more opportunities to exchange information and opinions frankly with judges of other countries online or by other means. We expect that these opportunities will motivate us to deepen our deliberations on these issues, that is, how the judiciary should be in Japan or oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

[Reporter]

I will ask you about Saiban-in trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic. You talked about infection control measures and mentioned that larger rooms are now used for deliberations with Saiban-in. However, I heard that some Saiban-in feel it rather difficult to make statements or otherwise face some inconvenience in those larger rooms. I think it also very important to secure an environment to enable Saiban-in to present their opinions freely during deliberations in order to properly reflect people's opinions in judicial judgments. Could you explain what measures you think are important for judges and the court to take to overcome such problems and achieve better proceedings and deliberations?

[Chief Justice]

First of all, unfortunately, I have had no experience of a Saiban-in trial in the first instance, and therefore, it may be difficult for me to mention any concrete measures based on specific circumstances. However, if I may say, amid the pandemic, under which we use larger rooms and ask Saiban-in to refrain from talking at lunch time, it cannot be denied that it has become difficult to build a feeling of unity among Saiban-in and it must be front-line judges who face such difficulties most. Accordingly, I expect that those judges will endeavor to make proceedings easier to understand so as to facilitate discussions and exercise their unseen ingenuity in accordance with individual panels, including six Saiban-in, which are formulated specifically for each case. As long as such sincere attitudes of judges are understood by Saiban-in, I believe that sufficient deliberations as before will be continued nationwide with those who are selected from among the general public and serve as Saiban-in amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Reporter]

I will ask you about the introduction of IT to the criminal justice system. You talked about user-friendliness in your answer regarding the introduction of IT as a whole. However, in the case of criminal justice, or procedures relating to warrants, in particular, it is difficult to imagine people who should be users directly. Apart from the ongoing introduction of IT to the civil justice system, discussions and adjustments must be required more frequently with the Public Prosecutors' Office, in particular, and other entities. Could you explain the commitment of the court and the challenges recognized at this point in time regarding the introduction of IT to the criminal justice system?

[Chief Justice]

It is true that the introduction of IT is being facilitated for civil procedures ahead of criminal procedures, with the focus placed on the improvement of judicial services or the enhancement of convenience for the general public. The introduction of IT will not necessarily bring about the same benefits for criminal procedures, as you pointed out. However, from the perspective of how to utilize IT in this upcoming trends or how to explore the possibility to use it in judicial procedures, some advocate that the introduction of IT to criminal procedures will be beneficial not only for the Public Prosecutors' Office but also for the court and that the digitalization will facilitate lawyers' activities, aside from such matters as where to put the focus and what new viewpoints are to be introduced. In today's society, where the use of IT is broadly disseminating, we must deepen discussions on the introduction of IT to the criminal justice system separately, with the awareness that we need to consider how to respond and adapt the entire judiciary procedures to such trends of the time. I hope that institutional arrangements will be designed appropriately through active opinion exchanges during deliberations on relevant procedures from now on.

[Reporter]

There seems to be no end to the infringement of rights caused by posts on the internet, including SNS websites, and there are increasing demands for relief by the court. The Diet recently enacted the Act Partially Amending the Act on the Limitation of Liability for Damages of Specified Telecommunications Service Providers and the Right to Demand Disclosure of Identification Information of the Sender, which incorporates the simplification of court procedures for demanding disclosure of identification information of the sender. It must be difficult to strike a balance with the secrecy of communications, but could you explain how the court will address this issue, including possible challenges?

[Chief Justice]

It is difficult for me to make a comment on a specific legal issue from some viewpoint at this point in time when a new system is going to start. Anyhow, this is related to what I have told you so far and is also a matter of how to respond, as the court, to new circumstances and conflicts, which arise in relation to IT in a new age. Needless to say, it may all come down to the fact that the court will make efforts appropriately in the operation of the system so as to avoid causing unreasonable adverse effects, based on the proper interpretation of the law.

  1. About the Supreme Court
    1. Access to the Supreme Court
    2. Organization Chart of the Supreme Court
    3. Justices of the supreme court
      1. OTANI Naoto
      2. KANNO Hiroyuki
      3. YAMAGUCHI Atsushi
      4. TOKURA Saburo
      5. MIYAMA Takuya
      6. MIURA Mamoru
      7. KUSANO Koichi
      8. UGA Katsuya
      9. HAYASHI Michiharu
      10. OKAMURA Kazumi
      11. NAGAMINE Yasumasa
      12. YASUNAMI Ryosuke
      13. WATANABE Eriko
      14. OKA Masaaki
      15. SAKAI Toru
      16. Former Justices
    4. Topics
      1. Message on the 25th anniversary of Japan becoming an observer to the CoE
      2. FY2020 Study Meeting on Foreign Judiciary Practices
      3. Online lecture meeting with the director of École nationale des greffes
      4. Online meeting between the judiciaries of the UK and Japan
      5. Japan-France Online Judicial Meeting
      6. Notice on Measures Taken at Courts to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
      7. Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      8. The former Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      9. The President of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Thailand Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      10. The Prosecutor General of the Supreme People’s Procuracy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      11. The Judge of the European Court of Human Rights Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      12. Judges from Germany, U.K. and U.S. Visit the Supreme Court of Japan
      13. Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam visits the
      14. The Minister of Justice of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      15. The Attorney General of the Ministry of Justice of Israel Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      16. The Attorney General of Malaysia Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      17. Chief Justice of Canada Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      18. The President of the German-Japanese Association of Jurists Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      19. The Head of Division, Administrative, Finance and Social Courts, Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection of Germany Visits the Supreme Court of Japan
      20. Participants of “Japan-France Law Conference” Visit the Supreme Court of Japan
      21. Participants of “Japan-Germany Constitutional Conversation” Visit the Supreme Court of Japan
      22. Judges who speak in JSIP2019 Visit the Supreme Court of Japan
      23. Outline of the Press Conference by Chief Justice OTANI on Constitution Memorial Day