Statement Calling for Enactment of the Act on Special Measures Concerning the "Legal Support Business" for Victims of Disasters Such as the Great East Japan Earthquake
In the regions affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake (“Disaster”), which occurred on March 11, 2011, disaster victims are living with various legal problems, including the double loan problem with their houses having been swept away, dismissal from their employment, being saddled with inherited debts, and having trouble with new neighboring relationships. Furthermore, it is assumed that legal needs for those afflicted by the nuclear disaster amount to over 200,000 cases.
The JFBA has been engaged in activities to respond to the legal needs in the disaster-affected regions in cooperation with bar associations, federations of bar associations of each region, and the Japan Legal Support Center, called Houterasu, immediately after the outbreak of the Disaster. More than 34,000 legal consultations have already been conducted.
In the course of its activities, the JFBA found limitations on legal aid in the disaster-stricken regions under the Comprehensive Legal Support Act (the “Act”).
The Act sets forth provisions such as the implementation of comprehensive legal support to further facilitate the use of the courts and systems for the settlement of disputes based on the law and to make it easier to receive support from attorneys, judicial scriveners, and other related legal experts.
This Act defines the civil legal aid business as a core business to make it easier for persons with limited means to avail themselves of civil court proceedings, etc. (court proceedings in civil cases, family affairs cases, or administration cases; hereinafter “Civil Court Proceedings”). The civil legal aid business imposes the requirements of financial capabilities for the use of the system, and is also limited to Civil Court Proceedings at courts.
However, requiring people with legal issues in the regions affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear accident to declare their financial capabilities for confirmation may lead to a lack of concern for the sufferings of the disaster victims. Actually, those in charge at municipal governments on the Sanriku Coast even say that if people who ask for legal aid are to be inquired about their financial capabilities, such legal consultation is not desired. Moreover, for example, some people were acknowledged to be financially capable because of their receipt of a certain amount of benefits under earthquake insurances and other payments, which consequently led to disqualification for receiving consultation of the civil legal aid.
In the regions stricken by the Disaster, although there are alternative resolution procedures for legal issues established for disaster victims such as the Guidelines for Individual Debtor Out-of-Court Workouts and the Dispute Settlement Center for Nuclear Disaster Compensation, the civil legal aid business has not directly admitted assistance for those procedures. Promotion of the use of such procedures will further contribute to the resolutions of the legal problems in the disaster areas.
In order to respond to the unprecedented number of needs, the JFBA thus sought the enactment of the act on special measures concerning the "legal support business" for support of victims of the Disaster and other disasters which sets forth provisions such as (1) the establishment of a legal aid business which does not discriminate disaster victims on the basis of financial capabilities, and (2) the realization of flexible support which is not limited to civil court procedures. At the Diet level as well, in light of the significance of legal aid in the disaster-stricken regions, the JFBA pursued the establishment of the act proposed by lawmakers at the 179th extraordinary Diet session which was already closed, but that did not end in the approval owing to the limitation of time and other factors.
The JFBA calls for the establishment of the act on special measures concerning the legal support business at the beginning of or at an early stage of the next ordinary Diet session scheduled to be convened early next year and for the implementation of legal aid which meets needs in the disaster areas as soon as possible.
December 14, 2011
Japan Federation of Bar Associations