Duties of the Japan Legal Support Center and the JFBA
1. Judicial Reform and Legal Aid
At its 1990 general meeting, the JFBA adopted the "Declaration on Judicial Reform" that advocated the transition from "small-scale justice" to "large-scale justice" and the achievement of "citizen participation in the judiciary." It also identified "fundamental reform of the legal aid system" as one of the priority issues and embarked on a program to establish a "comprehensive legal aid system" that would cover both civil and criminal cases.
2. The Japan Legal Aid Association and Enactment of the Civil Legal Aid Law
The objective of legal aid is to ensure that the people enjoy equal rights by providing assistance from legal experts, helping to cover the costs of trial, and effectively ensuring the "right of access to the courts" guaranteed in the Constitution. The JFBA has overseen the legal aid system in Japan since 1952 when it founded the Japan Legal Aid Association. However, as demand for aid has expanded, the Japanese legal aid system has been subject to serious and chronic fiscal deficits and has been slow to develop in comparison with legal aid systems in other countries. The Civil Legal Aid Law was enacted and took effect in 2000 to remedy this situation by providing legal grounds for legal aid services in civil cases. While criminal cases are still not covered, the law does institutionalize and stipulate government responsibility for legal aid and provide for government funding; improvements long requested by the JFBA.
3. Enactment of the Comprehensive Legal Support Law and Activities of the Japan Legal Support Center
The enactment of the Civil Legal Aid Law marked the beginning of drastic judicial reform.
The Comprehensive Legal Support Law was enacted as one of the key components in judicial reform with the aim of expanding access to legal services for the public, which enabled the establishment of the Japan Legal Support Center.
The Comprehensive Legal Support Law was enacted in 2004. This Law articulates the basic principle of "realizing a society where the information and services required for the resolution of legal disputes can be accessed throughout the country." The Japan Legal Support Center established under the law started offering services in October 2006 as an independent administrative institution. The Japan Legal Support Center will open offices in all areas where the district courts are located across the country as well as in areas suffering from the shortage of attorneys, and it will provide a wide range of legal services to citizens. Below are some of its main activities.
1) Information Services
In addition to establishing a consultation office, the center provides free information over the telephone and the Internet that may help people involved in legal troubles to settle disputes. For example, it maintains a database of contact information for bar associations, judicial scrivener associations, local government agencies and other institutions providing consultations around the country, and refers users to the one most suited to their situation.
2) Civil Legal Aid Services
The Japan Legal Support Center now provides the civil legal aid services that were formerly provided by the Japan Legal Aid Association and provides free legal consultations and loans for attorneys' fees, etc. for people who require the assistance of legal experts but for economic reasons are unable to pay for attorneys and court costs.
3) Legal Services for Communities with Shortages of Attorneys
The Japan Legal Support Center works in coordination with local bar associations to establish law offices and assign attorneys to areas suffering from shortages across the country, thus providing them with legal services.
4) Services Related to Court-appointed Attorneys for Defendants including Suspects
While the JFBA has requested the expansion of the court-appointed attorney system to cover suspects as well as defendants as part of its judicial reform campaign, it has also created a "duty attorney" (toban bengoshi) system to provide additional legal services for suspects. Under the Comprehensive Legal Service Law and the Japan Legal Support Center, court-appointed attorneys for suspects have been realized, ensuring a consistent public defense system. In 2009, it is expected that the cases subject to the system will be increased and more defense activities will take place.
5) Victim Support Services
The Japan Legal Support Center works in coordination with a number of other support organizations, including local bar associations, to refer victims to attorneys and consultation services with expertise in victim support.
6) Legal Aid Services Delegated by the JFBA
The JFBA entrusted the services listed below to the Japan Legal Support Center in October 2007, which were previously performed by the Japan Legal Aid Association, in addition to the services stipulated under the Civil Legal Aid Law mentioned above and those that the JFBA had taken over from the Japan Legal Aid Association and started providing in April 2007.
* Supporting criminal suspects (This service will be transferred to 4) above in 2009 when the system to provide legal services to criminal suspects will be implemented in full scale.)
* Attendant services for the juveniles in family court
* Other legal services for juveniles (legal services to be provided to children who need redress of human rights abuses due to child abuse, etc., when cooperation of a person who has parental authority over the child cannot be obtained because of poverty, hostility or other reasons)
* Legal aid to crime victims (representing crime victims for litigation and accusation, in responding to media, communication with victimizers, and others)
* Legal aid related to the application of refugee adjudication (joint service of the JFBA and the UNHCR)
* Legal aid to foreigners staying in Japan who are not subject to 1) above
* Legal aid to people with mental disorders
* Legal aid under the Medical Supervision of Mentally Disordered Offenders Act
* Legal aid to the elderly,disabled, homeless, etc.
The JFBA is supporting the legal aid services of the Japan Legal Support Center for needy people under an agreement with the Japan Legal Support Center by providing training and recommendations to attorneys who will engage in the services listed above and through various working-level talks regarding the service standards of the Center.