Who Rules Japan?

Who Rules Japan?

Popular Participation in the Japanese Legal Process

Edited by Leon Wolff, Luke Nottage and Kent Anderson

The dramatic growth of the Japanese economy in the postwar period, and its meltdown in the 1990s, has attracted sustained interest in the power dynamics underlying the management of Japan’s administrative state. Scholars and commentators have long debated over who wields power in Japan, asking the fundamental question: who really governs Japan? This important volume revisits this question by turning its attention to the regulation and design of the Japanese legal system. With essays covering the new lay-judge system in Japanese criminal trials, labour dispute resolution panels, prison policy, gendered justice, government lawyers, welfare administration and administrative transparency, this comprehensive book explores the players and processes in Japan’s administration of justice.

Chapter 3: Popular participation in labour law: the new labour dispute resolution tribunal

Takashi Araki and Leon Wolff

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law, politics and public policy, public policy


The Labour Tribunal Law (No. 45 of 2004) ushered in a new court-annexed dispute resolution system for industrial relations disputes in Japan (outlined generally in Sugeno, 2004). Similar to the lay judge system for criminal trials (Johnson and Shinomiya, Chapter 2), the new tribunal adopts an adjudicative model that blends professional and lay expertise with decisions heard by a tripartite panel comprising a professional judge and two lay judges recommended by management and labour unions respectively. The new tribunal system came into operation on 1 April 2006. Japan has never maintained a separate system of specialist courts for resolving labour disputes (see Figure 3.1). This contrasts with Europe where lay justice, comprising representative input from management and labour, is the norm. For example, the labour courts in Germany (Arbeitsgericht) and the employment tribunals in the UK are tripartite bodies; the labour courts in France (conseil de prud’hommes) are bipartite. However, since 1945, Japan has maintained labour relations commissions– administrative dispute resolution bodies in which both enterprise and unions participate. Labour relations commissions are tripartite, comprising members representing the public interest, labour and management. They have two major functions: (i) collective dispute resolution through mediation, conciliation and arbitration; and (ii) quasi-judicial determination of cases involving allegations of unfair labour practices. The former function is more than just enforcing existing norms; it also extends to disputes that seek to establish new work-related norms, such as collective bargaining culminating in strikes or lockouts.

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