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Impressions as a Lawyer Supporting Respect for the Rule of Law

Yoshiko Honma

1. Introduction

I graduated from the Chuo University Faculty of Law in March 1983, and became an attorney in 1991.

In this article, I will reflect upon my activities as an attorney. I will also discuss the rule of law and role of the legal profession.

2. Supporting legal system development in Cambodia―Recognizing the importance of rule of law and nurturing the legal profession

For a two-year period starting from 2002, I was stationed at the Cambodian Ministry of Justice as a long-term specialist in the Legal System Development Project for Supporting Important Policy. The project was implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Through my position, I was involved in drafting of civil code and civil procedure code in Cambodia.

Other representatives of Chuo University were involved in the project. Professor Masahiko Omura (currently Representative Director, Chair of the Board) was a member of the working committee for drafting civil procedure code. Professor Keita Sato was in charge of the intellectual property field and drafted bills as a part of the civil code working committee. I was given my own workspace in the Cambodian Ministry of Justice. Through my role as a specialist stationed on-site, I served as a liaison between the Japanese working committee and Cambodian drafting groups, fulfilling a role similar to a coordinator.

In the 1970s, the Pol Pot government in Cambodia invalidated all previous laws. Social systems including private property systems were abolished. Intellectuals were massacred or fled the country. Even after the fall of the Pol Pot government in 1979, civil war continued in the country and rebuilding of Cambodia was difficult without support from other countries. The country did not even possess fundamental national law. To assist in the building of a new country, France assisted with criminal law and criminal procedure law, while Japan helped with civil code and civil procedure code. In addition to lacking laws, Cambodia did not have a system to nurture judges and attorneys. The courts were corrupt, and violence and self-help were rampant in Cambodian society.

It was my first experience living in a society without a civil code. I recognized the important role fulfilled by law in eliminating violence from society and enabling all citizens to live with peace of mind. I also recognized how legal professionals are essential for protecting the rights of citizens and extending the rule of law across society. Consequently, I worked to build a system for nurturing legal profession in Cambodia.

The efforts of drafters from Japan and Cambodia were successful. The civil procedure code was promulgated in 2006 and the civil code in 2007. Afterwards, all Japanese staff members (including Professor Masahiko Omura, Professor Keita Sato, and myself) who assisted in drafting laws were awarded the Royal Order of Sahametrei.

Subsequently, the project continued in a different form. Even today, activities continue to assist in the spread of the civil code and the civil procedure code. I was thrilled when I learned that Fumie Fukuoka, a Chuo University graduate who had worked as a prosecutor, had been dispatched to Cambodia from March 2019 as a long-term specialist in the project. (Please refer to the article issued on March 1, 2018, entitled Would You Like to be Involved in Activities for Legal Technical Assistance?)

3. Cultivation of legal professionals in Japan--Early days of Chuo Law School

In February 2004, I finished my term of duty in Cambodia and returned to Japan. Coincidentally, a new law school system started in Japan from April of the same year. I was contacted by Chuo University with an employment offer as a professional instructor of preparing legal documents and overseeing mock civil trials. I happily accepted the offer, viewing it as an opportunity to be involved in important work related to the future of Japan. It was truly the dawn of law schools in Japan. We created educational materials from scratch with the help of instructors of legal practice (young attorneys). While overcoming hardship, I formed true camaraderie with students in the 1st and 2nd classes of Chuo Law School, sharing our disappointments and triumphs. I am proud of every single student in those classes, regardless of whether they pursued a career as a legal professional or chose to take a different path.

4. Challenge of acquiring my doctorate

I spent three years working as a Specially Appointed Professor at Chuo Law School. And after the experience in serving as a part-time lecturer, I became a Professor with professional experience at Soka University Law School from 2009. At Soka University, in addition to the preparation of legal documents and holding mock civil trials, I was also in charge of practical exercises for legal precedents and cases for civil code and civil procedure code. I also joined the Japan Association of Private Law and the Japan Association of the Law of Civil Procedure, where I conducted research.

From March 2015, I entered the doctoral program in the Chuo University Graduate School of Law and began working on my thesis. In addition to my roles as attorney and Professor at law school, I was then also a student in the doctoral program--you could say that I was wearing three different hats! For my thesis, I worked on a research theme which I had been contemplating for a long time--specifically, examining the differences between the Adversary System used in civil proceedings in the United States and the Adversary and Argumentative Systems used in Japan. Professor Masahiko Omura was my instructor and he helped me immensely once again. Considering that I was already in my mid-50s, it was a bold challenge. I went to visit researchers in America, finding lodging for as long as I was receiving instruction. For the first time in several dozen years, I frequently visited the Chuo University Library. I truly enjoyed the life of a student--spending time among the distinctive aroma of old books, reading, and contemplating. I realized that the libraries at Chuo University store a vast selection of valuable literature on British and American law. Once again, I felt a deep sense of pride in my alma mater.

Many times, I was on the verge of giving up. However, Professor Omura gave me strong encouragement. After Professor Omura assumed his new position (he became Representative Director in 2017), I received kind and attentive instruction from Professor Takashi Inomata. Thanks to their guidance, I was able to complete my doctoral thesis (Consideration of the Argumentative System through Comparison with United States Civil Procedures) at the beginning of 2018. Then, in March 2018, I received my long-awaited PhD in law.

Through my research, I realized that Japan and America have different ways of thinking in regards to fact finders which are prerequisites for application of law. In Japan, judges make final decisions on finding of facts which are prerequisites for application of law in the courts. However, in America, finding of facts is not normally the responsibility of judges. The concept is that while judges are legal professionals, they are not responsible for knowledge of all facts. Since parties to the case have the best knowledge of facts, those parties must take the initiative to determine facts, and it is a representative sample of the population (a jury) who passes judgment on an issue that is impossible for the parties to resolve, based on common sense. I felt philosophical and cultural differences in regards to dispute resolution.

5. Moving to Yamagata--Returning to my origin as an attorney

In March 2018, I finished my term as a Professor at Soka University Law School. I decided to retire from teaching and resumed work as a full-time attorney. My husband told me that he wanted to move close to his mother (currently 88 years old) in Yamagata Prefecture so that he could care for her. After contemplating our future, we decided to move to Yamagata.

At the end of 2018, I moved from Tokyo to Yamagata City. I also transferred from the Tokyo Bar Association to the Yamagata Bar Association. Moreover, I opened the Honma Law Office in Yamagata City.

During the last six months, I sometimes felt as if I had taken on the challenge of moving to a foreign country, particularly when experiencing the harsh winter and deep snow of the Tohoku region. However, once spring came, I was happy with my decision to move to Yamagata. In particular, I was overjoyed at being able to return to my origin as an attorney as part of the Yamagata Bar Association.

The Japan Legal Support Center (in Japanese, Houterasu) functions extremely well in Yamagata Prefecture. All attorneys in the Yamagata Bar Association cooperate and actively accept cases from Houterasu. We provide attentive legal consultation for residents. Furthermore, Yamagata City has public institutions which work passionately to support residents. Examples include the consumer affairs center and social welfare council. These institutions cooperate with the bar association to provide consultation and help find solutions for residents including elderly individuals and people with disabilities. I believe that these diligent activities are essential to spreading the rule of law to every corner of society.

I will celebrate my 60th birthday next year, yet I feel strong aspirations to the new field of activities spreading before my eyes. While working hard together with young attorneys in Tohoku, the majority of whom are graduates from law school, I will do my best to support the rule of law.

Yoshiko Honma was born in Osaka in 1960.
Academic Record
In 1983, she graduated from the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University.
In 1997, she graduated from Georgetown University Law Center (LL.M.).
In 2018, she completed the doctoral program in civil law at the Chuo University Graduate School of Law.
Academic Degrees
In March 2018, she acquired PhD (Law).
Thesis: Consideration of the Argumentative System through Comparison with United States Civil Procedures
In April 1991, she was registered as an attorney.
From August 1996 to December 1997, she studied abroad.
From January 1998 to December 2001, she was employed as an attorney at Kandabashi Law Office (currently White & Case Law Office).
From February 2002 to February 2004, she was appointed as a long-term specialist for supporting legal system development in Cambodia by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In April 2004, she founded a private law office (Tokyo Bar Association).
From April 2004 to March 2007, she served as Specially-Appointed Instructor/Professor at Chuo Law School.
From April 2009 to March 2018, she served as Professor at the Soka University Law School.
From December 2018 to present, she opened Honma Law Office (Yamagata Bar Association).
Attorney (43rd Class), Registered Attorney in the State of New York, United States

Yoshiko Honma