Backed by extensive experience in criminal trials and central roles in Japan's top court, new Supreme Court Chief Justice Naoto Otani is determined to work to strengthen public trust in the country's judicial system.
"To achieve the ultimate goal of reinforcing people's trust in the judiciary, I would like to dedicate my service to enhance judicial functions," the 65-year-old justice told the Mainichi Shimbun. His colleagues call him "prince" for his sincere stance when speaking.
Otani had spent much of his career on the bench dealing with criminal cases. While he was involved in high-profile cases including the 1999 murder of a 2-year-old girl in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, in which a mother strangled the younger sister of her son's kindergarten classmate, he does not talk about individual trials, saying that they include serious conflicts among interested parties.
Since 2002, when judicial system reform was set in motion, Otani has assumed central roles in the Supreme Court such as the head of the Criminal Affairs Bureau and Personnel Affairs Bureau. Those who have worked with Otani speak highly of him, saying that he "holds passion in his heart."
He has particularly strong opinions on the lay judge system. Otani says, "It is a system that re-examines criminal trials from their foundation, and it has given me an opportunity to rethink how I see trials." When questions regarding the system, such as its significance and problems, were asked, it was obvious that the new chief justice had a very great deal to say.
When the massive earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, Otani was observing the lay judge selection process for a trial as the head of the Shizuoka District Court. Although this trial was postponed for three months, those picked as lay judges all showed up at scheduled hearings. He sees this incident as an example of how "people's high aspirations have been the largest factor contributing to stable operation of the system."
On his days off, he enjoys reading novels while listening to classic music. He says he likes long stories, and his favorite is Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." While he grew up in Tokyo, Otani feels an attachment to former coal mining regions, as he spent some time in the coal city of Mikasa in Hokkaido until he was in fifth grade.