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Top>People>Legal trials are not somebody else’s business


Legal trials are not somebody else’s business

Hazumu Kato
Assistant Judge, Hiroshima District/ Family Court

1. Simple question — “What is a judge?”

“What is a judge like?”

“How does one become a judge?”

“What kind of work does a judge normally do?”

Many people may have questions like those listed above about judges. On the other hand, there might be even more people who go through their daily lives without ever thinking about judges.

Personally, none of my relatives are legal professionals, so I was almost completely unfamiliar with judges when I enrolled in the Faculty of Law. Indeed, words like law, lawyer, and court sounded extremely difficult and made me want to avoid the subject altogether. Based on this comment, it may seem strange that I decided to enroll in the Faculty of Law. When I entered university, I had never imagined in the slightest that I would someday become a judge. Actually, after entering university, I spent my time as most university students did—doing my schoolwork halfheartedly, working part-time, getting my driver’s license, and hanging out with my friends and girlfriend.

“What is a judge like?”

One answer to this question is a person like myself; that is, a normal person without any special qualities. In my case, I simply happened to select a special occupation in life.

However, I did always possess the desire to engage in some sort of specialized and expert occupation. At Chuo University, I was blessed with the opportunity to study in an environment that had produced countless legal professionals, and to learn together with other students interested in a specialized career. Together with support from my family and guidance from instructors, this environment was the starting point for my journey to become a judge. Without a doubt, Chuo University was a special place which formed the foundation for my current career.

2. Typical questions about judges

I am often asked the same questions about judges. One question is “do judges really strike a wooden gavel in court?” Actually, judges in Japan do not have gavels. It seems that images from animation or movies of foreign countries have become commonplace in the minds of Japanese people.

I am also often asked why judges use difficult terms and roundabout expressions in our judgment. For example, there are phrases such as “cannot be said to exist” or “cannot be said not to exist.” The reason is that matters ruled on by judges differentiate between things which “exist” and things which “do not exist.” In other words, “cannot be said to exist” and “do not exist” are used to express different meanings.

3. The appeal of becoming a judge

In order to become a judge, it is first necessary to pass the bar examination. In addition to becoming a judge, people passing the bar exam also have the option to become a prosecutor or lawyer. Indeed, not many people choose to pursue a career as a judge. Personally, I was initially unfamiliar with the occupation of judge, and I had intended to become a lawyer and help people placed in unjust positions.

However, once I started my legal apprenticeship, my image of judges changed greatly. Originally, I had a vague image which bordered on being a stereotype—that judges were serious, argumentative, and fearsome people who handled cases with a cold, machine-like indifference. However, in actuality, judges provided me with attentive instruction and could be quite humorous at times. They experienced doubt and uncertainty when passing judgment, often engaging in discussion and consultation. I realized that judges approach cases from the perspective of a single human being, seeking the ideal form of resolving disputes

Moreover, the work of judges was also very appealing. Judges are not subject to the orders or instructions of another person, and they are not bound to a specific position. There is an expression which says that “judge’s robes are black so that they cannot be dyed any other color.” This refers to how judges maintain a neutral and fair position while determining on facts and the appropriate legal resolution. Of course, judges are expected to make objectively reasonable decision and are constantly subject to criticism. This is due to the extremely important role and meaning of the decision made by judges. Now that I actually work as a judge, I find great fulfillment in my work every day.

4. Legal trials are not somebody else’s business

Now, as a more familiar subject, let’s move to a discussion of the relationship between the general public and legal trials. This discussion is especially important for people who have a hard time considering legal trials as a familiar subject.

In my legal career, I have handled civil and criminal cases, and also have done jury trials. Although my career as a judge is still relatively short, I believe that legal trials are a familiar part of daily life for many people, not somebody else’s business.

For example, assume that you are subject to misunderstanding or get in trouble. If you are sued, you must take part in a civil lawsuit and become an adverse party, no matter how unreasonable the claim may seem to you. Recently, it is not uncommon to become involved in a traffic accident. When living in society, it is impossible to avoid contact with other people. The world is filled with different values, and there are people who have different ways of thinking and view matters differently than you do. In that respect, everyday life is filled with the possibility of becoming involved in a dispute with others.

Many people may feel that criminal cases have even less to do with them . However, it may not be entirely true. People possess complex feelings and can be vulnerable to emotions. Every person has the potential to get involved in crime due to surrounding conditions such as his/her emotional state, interpersonal relationships, and upbringing and living environments

For example, ignoring red lights or drunk driving is a clear pitfall awaiting the average person. In other words, despite being aware of traffic rules and realizing that ignoring such rules will result in a traffic violation, some people commit a traffic violation for the sake of personal convenience or based on personal judgment: “There are no other cars coming,” “I’m in a hurry,” or “I only drank a little and am fine to drive.” In this way of thinking, it is acceptable to break rules due to the circumstances. Such thinking often leads to a casual attitude toward relatively minor crimes. Even if violations could lead to serious consequences, people are prone to think that “no one will find out” or “it won’t cause any problems” until an accident actually occurs. Such people fail to realize that their logic is nothing more than self-indulgence to rationalize personal desire. Unfortunately, even if they repent upon realizing their errors, they are at risk of suffering significant loss.

As pertains to other crimes, it is human nature to make mistakes when various conditions converge, including strong anger or desire, irrational behavior by other people, severe stress, isolation, or lack of self-control due to inebriation.

According to questionnaires administered to ordinary people who have served as jurors for a jury trial, a relatively high ratio of people responds that it was a good experience. A major reason for this is that serving as a juror is an unusual experience. I also think another reason is that they could realize criminal trials are not always somebody else’s business. I believe this reminds jurors of the great importance of following rules as well as themselves and other people.

Hazumu Kato
Assistant Judge
Hiroshima District/ Family Court
Hazumu Kato was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1984.
In 2006, he graduated from the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University.
In 2008, he completed studies at the Chuo Law School, Chuo University.
In January 2010, he was appointed as Assistant Judge at the Wakayama District Court.
In April 2013, he was appointed as Assistant Judge at the Matsudo Branch of Chiba District/ Family Court.
(From April 2013, he spent 1 year working at a private corporation as outside experience.)
Since April 2015, he has served as Assistant Judge at the Hiroshima District/ Family Court.