Usefulness of Qualified Legal Professionals at Administrative Organs
1. My experience at the Consumer Affairs Agency
In April 2018, I was appointed as an Assistant Director in charge of information disclosure, personal information protection and whistle-blowing in the General Affairs Division of the Consumer Affairs Agency. I was engaged in work related to information disclosure and served as a contact point for whistle-blowing. In 2019, my responsibilities were expanded to include work related to the management of administrative documents at the Consumer Affairs Agency. In 2020, I left my previous position and began working as a legal expert.
In particular, as a legal expert, I was involved in work that deepened my knowledge as an attorney. For example, I served as a review officer when a request for review was issued based on the Administrative Complaint Review Act.
2. Scenes in which legal professionals are expected to fulfill an active role at administrative organs
The scenes in which legal professionals are expected to fulfill an active role at administrative organs have traditionally been litigation involving administrative organs, the drafting of laws and ordinances, the provision of legal advice within the administrative organs, and interaction with citizens and residents. However, based on my personal experience, I believe that it would be best to promote the use of legal professionals in the following fields.
(1) Field of information disclosure and personal information protection
One of the main tasks which I handled at the Consumer Affairs Agency was responding to requests for information disclosure. An important point pertaining to requests for information disclosure is whether or not the administrative document can be identified based on the contents described by the person issuing the request.
For example, assume that the requested document is described as "a document concerning the approval of XXXX No. Y dated ZZ/ZZ/ZZZZ." In this case, the relevant document is relatively clear. However, there are some cases in which the requested document cannot be clearly identified based on the provided description. In the latter case, it is necessary to contact the party requesting the document and ask for specific details regarding the document which they have in mind. Then, while consulting with a department which may possess the desired document, I had to consider descriptions which may enable identification of the applicable document, to ask the party requesting the document to make amendments, or to obtain consent from the party for making amendments as permitted by the authority of my position. This process involves legal consultation such as ascertaining the intentions of the party, explaining laws, and providing explanations based on a review of feasible measures. I believe that the knowledge of attorneys would be useful in such situations.
In addition, when making a decision on disclosure or non-disclosure after actually identifying the desired document, I provided advice to related departments based on past judicial precedents and reports in regards to the concept of non-disclosure information in Article 5 of the Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs. I feel that this work truly utilized my abilities as a legal professional. It seems that there are almost no legal professionals involved in responding to information disclosure requests at other ministries. Many times, I received consultations from other ministries regarding information disclosure. Even in the field of personal information protection, there were many scenes in which I felt able to utilize my knowledge as a legal professional. For example, I explained to the person in charge at the ministry what points require caution when responding to requests for disclosure of retained personal information and when acquiring personal information, and I examined a draft of a form consenting to the acquisition of personal information.
(2) Field related to the Administrative Complaint Review Act
The Administrative Complaint Review Act is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The Ministry provides services such as conducting training for each administrative organ. Apparently, although I do not know the source of the information, a person in charge at the Ministry found out that I was a certified attorney, and that I was serving as a review officer at the Consumer Affairs Agency. As a result, I was appointed as an instructor for the training of review officers and their assistant staff.
At a training meeting held at that time, I learned that there were few ministries and agencies which assigned qualified legal professionals as staff involved in procedures for proceedings based on the Administrative Complaint Review Act.
When handling requests for review based on the Administrative Complaint Review Act, it is necessary to review both the legality and validity of the administrative disposition. Specifically, it is necessary to confirm that the administrative disposition complies with the Administrative Procedure Act and other procedures stipulated by laws and regulation, and that the requirements for disposition have been met. Moreover, even for cases in which disposition can be legally performed, it is necessary to confirm that the contents of the issued disposition are appropriate. These facts must be certified from the materials submitted by the party requestors for review and agency engaging in disposition, and a judgment must be made based on legal evaluation of the facts.
At the very least, at the time of training in civil trials and criminal trials, qualified legal professionals are trained to recognize and evaluate facts based on the evidence submitted by related parties, and to organize the claims of the parties in accordance with legal requirements. Consequently, qualified legal professionals should possess the ability to perform tasks such as organizing issues in the procedures of proceedings and preparing the final written opinion of the review officer.
Reports by the Administrative Complaint Review Board are posted on the website of the Board at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. There are many cases of standard requests for review; for example, there are a relatively high number of requests for review regarding decisions not to pay vocational training allowances and requests for review regarding unconfirmed disposal of unpaid wages, etc., related to advance payment businesses. On the other hand, there are cases in which a person involved in the request for review submits a claim or evidence at a level equivalent to legal proceedings; for example, a request for review aimed at cancellation of an administrative disposition based on Act on Specified Commercial Transactions or the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations. In such cases, I felt that it was desirable to utilize a legal professional at the reviewing agency to ensure that the proceedings are performed properly.
It seems that many people apply for the position wanting to become a fixed-term employee, to be involved in enforcement or enactment of law. Indeed, many departments recruit employees with this in mind. However, I felt that there are still many cases in which legal professionals are not involved in situations where knowledge as a legal professional is required including requests for review or work related to intellectual property rights owned by each ministry.
Having qualified legal professionals inside an administrative organ makes it possible to give advice based on knowledge of administrative practices. This should make it possible to perform administrative management with greater compliance to laws and regulations. Accordingly, it is my opinion that administrative organs should consider using qualified legal professionals. Furthermore, I encourage qualified legal professionals to positively consider any opportunities to apply as such.
Takuro Hashimoto was born in Kagoshima Prefecture.
He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1999.
He completed his studies in the Chuo Law School (course for students with a legal background) in 2006, and passed the bar examination the same year.
He was registered as an attorney in 2007 (Chiba Bar Association) as a member of the 60th class. He joined the law firm River-City Legal Profession Corporation.
He entered the Consumer Affairs Agency as a fixed-term employee in 2018 (term of employment until March 2021). He was involved in various tasks as an Assistant Director in charge of information disclosure, personal information protection and whistle-blowing, as a member of Records Management Office, and as a legal expert. He was re-registered as an attorney in April 2021 and entered employment at Itosogo Law Office.
His main written works include Book For Thoroughly Understanding the Basics and Mechanisms of the Latest Copyright Laws (co-authored, Shuwasystem Publishing, 2009) and Ready to Use! A Collection of Contract Clauses (co-authored, Shuwasystem Publishing, 2011).