Efforts to Improve Access to Justice
Duty Attorney (Toban Bengoshi) System
The Duty Attorney System is a private-sector system created by bar associations in order to effectively guarantee the right of suspects to defense counsel in the absence of a court-appointed attorney system at the suspect stage.
When requested by a suspect, the duty attorney quickly visits the suspect's place of detention and interviews the suspect, regardless of nationality or visa status. If the suspect is a foreign national, an interpreter accompanies.
The first consultation with a duty attorney is basically free of charge. Interpreting fees are likewise free. These fees are borne by local bar associations and, in order to financially support this system, the JFBA is collecting special dues from its members.
Fees are charged if after the first consultation the suspect requests the attorney to represent him. Previously, the defense fees were covered by the Suspect Defense Aid System funded by the JFBA, etc. if the suspect had financial difficulties. However, from October 2006 Japan has been providing court-appointed attorneys for suspects of certain serious criminal offenses and the scope of the subject cases has been drastically expanded since May 2009.
As a result, most suspects are now provided court-appointed attorneys.
However the Duty Attorney System and the Suspect Defense Aid System are being maintained for those who are not covered by the court-appointed attorney system and for those who have been arrested but have not yet been issued the detention warrant. Therefore, the JFBA continues collecting special dues from its members to support these systems, but they are under financial difficulties due to the steady increase of cases.
Establishment and Operation of Bar Funded Law Offices
There are some areas of Japan where the number of attorneys is extremely low in comparison with the population under the jurisdiction of the district court or its branch. Since issuing its "Declaration on Establishment of Legal Counseling Systems in Areas with Attorney Shortage (so-called Nagoya Declaration)" in 1996, the JFBA has endeavored to make the judicial system more accessible and open to the general public, and one of its goals has been to create a system that would ensure that attorneys are available and nearby throughout the country so that the public can quickly and appropriately seek protection of its rights. It has therefore declared its commitment to eliminating areas where the number of attorneys is extremely low.
As part of this, the JFBA, local bar associations, and regional federations of bar associations established "Himawari Fund Law Offices". These offices, which have commenced services one after another from June 2000, are operated by individual attorneys but are provided with assistance to cover their opening and administrative costs as well as the operations thereof by the JFBA, local bar associations, and regional federations of bar associations on condition that they provide a certain level of public service in the form of court-appointed defense attorneys and legal aid services on civil cases. The costs required to operate offices are paid from the "Himawari Fund" to which is allocated a certain percentage of bar association member dues. Some bar associations and regional federations of bar associations have also opened law offices in urban areas to provide a certain level of public service as well as to train attorneys who intend to work as full-time staff attorneys of the Japan Legal Support Center, to practice in areas suffering from a shortage of attorneys, or to serve as judges or public prosecutors. These law offices facilitate access to attorneys in urban areas as well.
Legal Counseling Centers
Local bar associations establish legal counseling centers so as to provide all citizens with access to attorney consultations anytime, anywhere. The types of consultations provided and consultation fees charged differ from center to center, and many bar associations go beyond ordinary legal consultations to include issues such as multiple consumer loan problems, family problems, and other specialties. Some also provide nighttime consultation services. The JFBA supports the establishment and operation of legal counseling centers as part of its program to alleviate shortages of attorneys. As a result of these efforts on the part of the JFBA and local bar associations to provide services in line with community needs, a total of 315 legal counseling centers have been established around Japan as of January 2010. The JFBA continues to encourage the establishment of legal counseling centers and is also examining other programs to improve the quality of the legal counseling available, such as the use of videoconferencing systems, better access to specialty consultations, and better schemes for dealing with complaints.
Financial Support for Elimination of Areas with Attorney Shortages
In addition, the JFBA has started to provide economic support from January 2008 which aims to encourage attorneys to settle in areas with a shortage of attorneys under jurisdictions of local district courts or their branches with populations of 30,000 or more per attorney. With the condition of receiving applications through a local bar association or regional federations of bar associations, this program will provide services as follows:
* Loan of opening costs to attorneys who are going to settle and start practices in the areas set forth above;
* Provision of technical support including training and advise by local bar associations and regional federations of bar associations to new attorneys who are going to settle and start practices in the areas set forth above; and
* Provision of costs required to open and expand a law firm that is to train attorneys who are going to settle and start practices in the areas set forth above, and training cost of those attorneys.
The program prepared and funded with a new fund aims to open ten new law firms in urban areas described above and to have about 200 attorneys settle and practice in the areas that are suffering from a shortage of attorneys before 2013.
Legal Access Center
The JFBA opened the "Legal Access Center" in July 2000, which will introduce an appropriate attorney of a bar association to an insured who purchased legal expenses insurance from an insurance company under an agreement with the JFBA, responding to each case when contact is made from the insurance company. The history of legal expenses insurance is not long in Japan, but the JFBA hopes for further growth and development of the insurance with the expectation that it will reinforce accessibility to attorneys for people who need attorneys.