The Supreme Court and the Push for Transparency in Lower Court Appointments in Japan
20 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2015
Date Written: 2011
In addition to deciding cases, the Japanese Supreme Court bears responsibility for another major category of decision making: judicial administration. One vital aspect is personnel management. The Supreme Court, through its General Secretariat, plays a central role in the selection of lower court judges and decides on promotions and transfers, which are a standard element of Japan's career judiciary. Over the years, many critics have contended that the Supreme Court General Secretariat uses its authority in personnel matters to reward some judges and punish others, with allegations that ideological and political considerations are involved. This, in turn, it has been argued, threatens judicial independence. For its part, the Supreme Court has steadfastly resisted responding to these charges, other than to provide assurances that the process is fair. The basic outline of the lower court appointment process is widely known. Yet the actual operation of that process has been shrouded in secrecy. The Supreme Court has held the governing standards and process for promotions and transfers in even greater secrecy.
In 2001 the Justice System Reform Council issued a report that included various recommendations relating to the judiciary. Among its recommendations, the Reform Council called for reforms that would ensure the views of the public are reflected in the judicial appointment process and would secure transparency and objectivity in personnel evaluations.
After reviewing the Supreme Court's role in the judicial appointment and personnel management process, this essay examines the set of reforms that were adopted to heighten transparency in that process. As this examination reveals, despite the push for transparency, appointments are still far from public, not to mention standards governing promotions and transfers. Japanese judges still work in relative anonymity. This supports the Japanese judiciary's ethos of uniformity built on a view (or mythology) that the identity of judges does not matter, since procedures and outcomes will be the same no matter who is on the bench.
Keywords: judges, judicial administration, judicial selection, judicial appointments
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