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New Supreme Court justice sees no problem with elective dual-surname system

Yuko Miyazaki, a newly appointed Supreme Court justice, speaks at a news conference at the Supreme Court in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

A lawyer who was appointed a Supreme Court justice as of Jan. 9 announced that she would continue to go by her pre-marriage surname -- as opposed to her husband's surname that she legally took when they wed, becoming the first Supreme Court justice to do so.

"I see no problem at all with a dual surname system that allows couples to choose whether to take on one or the other's surname, or to keep their own surnames," newly appointed Yuko Miyazaki, 66, told the press conference. "Today, amid such diversity in values, it's important that we offer as many options as possible."

Under Japan's Civil Code, a couple must take either the wife's or the husband's surname at the time of marriage. Until August of last year, judges were not permitted to work under their non-legal pre-marriage names; the five women who have served as Supreme Court justices thus far have all used the surnames that they took when they married, which are officially registered in their family registries.

As an attorney, Miyazaki continued to use her pre-marriage surname even after she married. "A relationship of trust is crucial between an attorney and their client," Miyazaki explained to reporters. "If I used a different surname, that relationship would require rebuilding from square one."

Naoto Otani, 65, who was appointed the 19th chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Takuya Miyama, 63, who went from being the chief justice of the Tokyo High Court to a Supreme Court justice, also held press conferences at the Supreme Court on Jan. 9.

Otani, who was the architect of Japan's lay judge system, expressed his view that problems in the lay judge system require further debate among professional judges and said, "I will pour all my efforts into realizing a court system that is trusted by the public."

Miyama, meanwhile, told reporters, "I feel an extremely grave responsibility considering the impacts that Supreme Court rulings have on people's lives, the economy and society."

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