...for serious criminal cases, at least. (Bennett Richardson, "In reform bid, Japan opts for trial by jury", Christian Science Monitor, Jun. 4). Russia, with much encouragement from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, did the same in 1993 ("Jury trials in Russia", Moscow Center for Prison Reform, undated). Britain, as is well known, years ago was careful to preserve the use of the jury in serious criminal cases while abolishing it in most civil cases (defamation being the best-known exception to the latter rule). Why is it so widely felt that the virtues of the institution are crucial in the application of criminal but not civil law? A good question.
The CSM article also reports on Japan's concerted effort to make its legal system more closely resemble those of other industrialized democracies. Key passage: "Japan's chronic shortage of lawyers is another cause - despite having a population around two-fifths the size of the US, Japan has less than one-fiftieth the number of lawyers. Until last year there was only one institution in Japan at which judges, prosecutors, and lawyers could become qualified to practice law, and the bar exam's annual pass rate was kept at a ludicrously low 3 percent. To address this shortage, the government allowed universities across the country to establish law schools in 2003 and aims to lift the pass rate for the bar exam so that the number of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers in Japan will double by 2018."