From Front Line of Supporting Foreigners - A Visit to Tokyo Public Law Office Mita Branch
The number of new cases concerning international family affairs exceeded 8000 in 2011. It is not rare that a lawyer finds out that a spouse is a foreigner after taking on a divorce case or that an heir of inheritance case happens to be a foreigner who lives overseas. A draft bill for implementing the Hague Child Abduction Convention passed the Diet in June 2013. Encountering cases involving foreigners have increasingly become usual experiences in our legal practice. We had an interview with lawyers of Tokyo Public Law Office Mita Branch specializing in international affairs, which was founded in October 2012.
(Public Relations officer Ryoko Shibata)
Tokyo Public Law Office Mita Branch as Symbol of Foreigners and International Service Section
In response to the increasing number of cases concerning immigration and international family affairs, Lawyers Network for Foreigners (LNF) was established four years ago in order to share information on foreigners’ cases. Members of LNF secretariat appealed the need of a law office specialized in cases involving foreigners. That resulted in setting up the Mita Branch, which operates closely with the Foreigners Section of the Ikebukuro Main Office.
“I hope Mita Branch will become a symbol of the Foreigners and International Service Section and bring out hidden needs, which will lead to improving nationwide legal service for foreigners,” says Mikiko Otani (Tokyo Bar Association), co-representative of Mita Branch.
Obstacles to Handling Foreigners’ Cases
At present, eight lawyers work at Mita Branch and provide legal service in Japanese, English and Spanish. They also provide service in other languages with interpreters from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.
About 70 new consultations are requested per month, most of which are in regard to family problems, visa status, other civil affairs and labor cases.
Otani says, “In case of family cases involving foreigners, the first thing we have to do is to make them understand the Japanese legal system so that they can choose how to solve their problems. There are many obstacles to handle foreigners’ cases, such as language problems and differences in legal system.”
Training of Lawyers and Clerks for Foreigners’ Cases
As one of the efforts to increase the number of lawyers who can handle foreigners’ cases, LNF offers monthly lectures. “If we appropriately identify cases where clients need clerical or procedural assistance and those cases needed to be referred to lawyers, we may be able to provide legal service to foreigners at wider scale. Our future challenges include to train staffs in the law offices, who can handle foreigners’ cases,” says Otani.
Another challenge is to provide long-distance legal service for foreigners who do not have easy access to Tokyo. To overcome this challenge, Mita Branch trains lawyers who will then be dispatched to public law offices and Japan Legal Support Center in remote areas so that they can provide legal service for foreigners in such areas. Keiji Senoo (Tokyo Bar Association), a lawyer from Mita Branch, enthusiastically says, “Knowledge cannot always help me since real cases have their own faces. I would like to help foreigners in my local duty too, taking advantage of my experiences in Mita Branch.”