Top>Opinion>Current Status of Support for the Development of Legal Systems by the Ministry of Justice – Passionate Lawyers Working around the World

OpinionIndex

Current Status of Support for the Development of Legal Systems by the Ministry of Justice

– Passionate Lawyers Working around the World

Sakai Kohei
Fellow, Chuo Law School (Director of the International Cooperation Department, Research and Training Institute, Ministry of Justice)
Area of Specialization: The Practice of Criminal Law, and Practical Support for the Development of Legal Systems

Read in Japanese

What is needed to support railways in another country?

As part of the G7, Japan has now become a globally-recognized member of the world’s most developed countries, and supporting developing nations has become an important responsibility for Japan. This could be described as Japan’s way of paying back the debt it owes international society for the help it has received since the Meiji Period.

Japan introduced the equipment and technology for its railways from Europe, and the railways have now become an indispensable part of everyday life in Japan. Japan’s railway technology, which has been fostered through the painstaking efforts of our predecessors since the Meiji Period, has now become the envy of developing nations, and Japan supports the development of railways around the world.

“Supporting the development of railways” has a variety of different phases. Firstly, in order to operate trains in locations where there are no railways, you need to start by preparing the rail bed and laying the tracks. Next, you need to manufacture trains to run on the rails; it goes without saying that you also need people with the right skills to drive the trains and maintain and manage the rail bed. This is more or less all you need to do to run a train. However, if a railway line has just a single track or non-electrified track, it will not have sufficient transportation capacity. In order to transport people or goods efficiently or in large volumes, it becomes necessary to build state-of-the-art trains, electrify the tracks, and make the rail bed and aerial wiring capable of handling state-of-the-art trains. It also becomes necessary to expand the number of rail lines, and to establish operational systems to allow trains to run freely across those rail lines.

The beginnings and spread of support for legal systems

Another sophisticated system that was developed by Japan after introduction from the West, similarly to the railways, is Japan’s legal system. Requests for support in this field have been made to Japan by a number of different countries.

Japan began to respond to these requests in 1991, when Vietnam, which was implementing the Doi Moi Policy with the goal of promoting a market economy, called upon the support of Japan for the development of its legal system. Support began with the drafting of basic laws, including civil law. It goes without saying that laws already existed in Vietnam in relation to transactions and family relationships, but in effect the reforms were equivalent to laying new tracks and building new trains.

After Vietnam, legal support was started in Cambodia, where many existing laws had been abolished during the Pol Pot regime of the 1970s, and many intellectuals, including lawyers, had been massacred. Here, in addition to drafting civil law and civil procedures, support was given in order to train legal practitioners – the equivalent of training train drivers and mechanics for the railways.

Rather than forcing Japan’s laws onto other countries as an entire package, Japan’s method of supporting the development of legal systems was to ask legally qualified professionals to spend long periods living overseas, where they trained the equivalent of “railway mechanics” based on the traditions, customs and particular circumstances of the country in question. In this way, Japan’s methods became highly regarded in a number of countries, and later spread to the likes of Laos, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Nepal.

A new wave of support for the development of legal systems

The types of legal fields for which developmental support has been provided has moved on from basic law, to encompass real estate registration law, intellectual property law, bankruptcy law, and the like; more recently, there have been strong calls for support in fostering human resources, which includes the education of legal professionals and the provision of legal education at universities. Japan’s system of collectively selecting and training the so-called “three legal professions” (judges, prosecutors and lawyers) has come to be highly regarded; Laos, where there has been a strong influence from France as its former suzerain state, was inspired by Japan’s system to introduce a bar examination and legal training similar to Japan’s system.

What’s more, in addition to the drafting and operation of laws, Japan has been asked for support with efforts to strengthen the vertical and horizontal compatibility of laws, and the compatibility between laws and regional regulations. In Myanmar and Indonesia, where support in this field was recently launched, a new dimension of this support can be seen whereby priority is given to the perspective of developing the investment environment for Japanese companies operating locally. In terms of the nature of support for the development of legal systems, there has been a shift away from “voluntary activities by lawyers” and towards the “export of soft infrastructure as a national policy.” To return to the analogy of supporting the railways, this could be described in terms of moving from laying new lines and introducing new trains, onto focusing on the construction of an efficient railway system.

Competition has arisen between other countries and international organizations already supporting, or planning to support, the countries in question; this too has created a phenomenon similar to exports of railway systems and competition for orders; accordingly, Japan can no longer afford to rest on its laurels simply because of its track record and the trust it has gained.

The people supporting the development of legal systems

Supporting the development of legal systems has become a very trendy field, and there are now many young legal professionals, graduate students and undergraduate students who want to become directly involved.

Supporting the development of legal systems has now become an actively implemented Japanese government policy that makes use of official development assistance (ODA); the most significant form this has taken is the implementation of technological assistance projects promoted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The scope of the supported laws may be broadening, but the main focus remains basic laws governed by the Ministry of Justice; it would be no exaggeration to say that unless the Ministry of Justice takes the strong initiative, progress will not be made by Japan in supporting the development of legal systems.

It is the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Justice’s Research and Training Institute that is responsible for supporting the development of legal systems at the Ministry of Justice. Public prosecutors and career track employees at the Civil Affairs Bureau serve as instructors and hold negotiations both in Japan and overseas, and officials from the various bureaus of the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutors Office work as experts to support the instructors’ activities.

Some of the public prosecutors are judges who have sought transfers; the International Cooperation Department also attracts “government lawyers” who have become strongly involved in JICA projects while carrying out activities to support the development of legal systems. The International Cooperation Department has dispatched public prosecutors to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia as JICA experts on long-term postings, and all of these experts were appointed to their overseas posts after serving as instructors at the International Cooperation Department. There are many times when day-to-day negotiations with the judicial and legal representatives of the countries being supported meet with difficulties; however, public prosecutors who have developed their human skills at organizations such as the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutors Office work tirelessly in each country alongside lawyers on long-term postings as JICA experts and local staff to provide support in a way that allows the development of legal systems to enter a new phase.

The activities of the International Cooperation Department are reported in the departmental bulletin ICD News, which is published four times per year.

This can be read online, so please access the bulletin and get a sense of what is happening on the front line of efforts to support the development of legal systems. You can find the ICD News section on the International Cooperation Department websitenew window.

Unlike the railways, which are a tangible object, law is not visible. However, the platform for a country’s prosperity and the happy lives of its people can be found in the rule of law and the trust placed in the judiciary, and everyone at the International Cooperation Department is carrying out hard work with a high spirit.

Sakai Kohei
Fellow, Chuo Law School (Director of the International Cooperation Department, Research and Training Institute, Ministry of Justice)
Area of Specialization: The Practice of Criminal Law, and Practical Support for the Development of Legal Systems
Kohei Sakai was born in Osaka Prefecture. He graduated from the Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University in 1979. He passed the Bar Examination in 1992. In 1995, he was appointed as a public prosecutor. After serving as a Tokyo District public prosecutor, Osaka District public prosecutor, First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy in France, and instructor at the Legal Training and Research Institute, from 2011 to 2013 he worked as a specially appointed professor at Chuo Law School. In 2013, he was appointed Deputy Chief Prosecutor for Naha District. In 2015, he became Director of the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Justice’s Research and Training Institute. Currently, he is working on the front line of efforts to support the development of legal systems at the Ministry of Justice.
Books: The Work of a Public Prosecutor – The Story of a Rookie Public Prosecutor [Kenji no Shigoto – Aru Shinnin Kenji no Kiseki] (Tachibana Shobo, 2013), The Criminal Procedure Code Made Easy for Police Officers [Keisatsukan no tameno Wakariyasui Keijisoshoho] (co-authored, Tachibana Shobo, 2015)