Top court under new chief must use power of judicial review appropriately
In realizing a judiciary that can be trusted by the people, the new chief justice has his work cut out for him.
Itsuro Terada has become the 18th chief justice of the Supreme Court. His father, Jiro Terada, was the 10th chief justice. It marks the first time for a father and son to have both assumed the post.
Terada, a former judge, worked for many years at the Justice Ministry and on tasks such as the development of legal systems related to the Civil Code. He has likely been appointed as the chief justice due to his knowledge of not only the judiciary, but also the legislative process and public administration.
What is expected from the new chief justice, among other things, is firmly establishing reforms in the justice system within society, an ongoing process that Terada was involved in when he was at the Justice Ministry.
The reforms, which aimed to create a justice system that the public would feel close to and find useful, have achieved tangible results.
The lay judge system, one of the reforms’ key features, will have been in force for five years in May. Although the system was implemented without major confusion, it is a cause of concern that among those who have served as lay judges, the number of people who say that the trial process is “easily comprehensible” has been declining.
In implementing the lay judge system, the court intended to improve the level of interaction within the judiciary during the trial, such as during witness examination. But there has been much criticism that trials have often been conducted on the basis of written documentation, mainly with records of pretrial interrogation being read out.
We hope the new chief justice will exercise his leadership so that trials are conducted in an easy-to- understand manner.
Respect other branches
The court has the power of judicial review to evaluate the constitutionality of laws and administrative procedures, with the final judgment to be made by the Supreme Court.
Trials involving constitutional judgments are examined by all 15 justices on the grand bench, with Terada serving as chief judge.
The power of judicial review is an important source of authority in a nation ruled by law. But from the viewpoint of the separation of administrative, legislative and judiciary powers, it is essential to heed the discretion of the legislative and executive branches when exercising the power.
The top court’s stance has been deemed questionable in this respect, as indicated by its ruling on vote-value disparity.
In a ruling that described the 2009 House of Representatives election to have been in “a state of unconstitutionality,” the grand bench said that the vote-value disparity primarily stems from the current seat-distribution system. The system allots one seat to each prefecture as a quota before deciding the number of seats that should be allocated to its single-seat section of the election in proportion to its population. The court called for an immediate abolition of the distribution formula.
In a ruling that also stated the 2012 lower house election to have been in “a state of unconstitutionality,” the top court said structural problems in the distribution of the quota of seats for single-seat constituencies had not been resolved.
It can be said that the top court has gone so far as to step into the legislative branch’s sphere of discretion, going beyond making a judgment on the constitutionality of a vote-value disparity.
The issue of whether a framework concerning Diet seat distribution should be abolished is one that must be judged by the Diet. The top court must exercise its power of judicial review appropriately.
The Supreme Court is the “last bastion” in the three-tiered system of justice.
It is vital that, under the new chief justice, each justice on the top court properly evaluates the conclusions reached by lower courts, so that there are no more victims of false accusation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 3, 2014)