Nomophilacy and Beyond

Comparative Reflections on Judicial Precedents by Supreme Jurisdictions in Italy and Japan

in European Journal of Comparative Law and Governance
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The issue of how civil law jurisdictions rely on precedents in the absence of a firm stare decisis rule is one of the most debated topics in comparative law. While most studies focus on the convergence of legal systems and/or rely on socio-legal reflections, this paper employs an institutional approach based on the comparison of the supreme courts of Italy and Japan, two civil law countries that share many similarities in history, perceptions of the civil litigation system, and eventual drift towards a quasi-precedential model. The study tries to demonstrate that even when there are no formally binding precedents, technical, procedural rules make supreme courts’ decisions fundamental for the formation of norms. The analysis highlights the different weight each factor (i.e. structure and functioning of the supreme courts, reforms in civil procedure, access to justice) and actor (i.e. judges, scholars) has in the formation and application of precedents in Italy and Japan.

Nomophilacy and Beyond

Comparative Reflections on Judicial Precedents by Supreme Jurisdictions in Italy and Japan

in European Journal of Comparative Law and Governance




E. H. Caminker‘Why Must Inferior Courts Obey Superior Courts Precedents?’ Stan. L. Rev. 46 (4) (1994) 817 826–827 850.


G.F. Colombo‘Japan as a Victim of Comparative Law’ Mich. St. Int’l L. Rev. 22 (2013) 731.


F.K. Upham‘The Place of Japanese Law Studies in American Comparative Law’ Utah L. Rev. 1 (1997) 652tells about an episode when John O. Haley and Arthur Rossett at the 1985 meeting of the American Association of Comparative Law tried to convince the audience that the civil law model could be taught using Japan as example. They faced a bold reaction by a leading professor who stated that "Japan has a distinct culture". This is not the place for debating the problem about legal families. Of course as it is well-known basically all legal systems are to some extent mixed a result of "contamination" between different models. Amplius E. Örücü ‘What is a Mixed Legal System: Exclusion or Expansion’ Electronic J. Comp. Law 12 (2008) 1. Interestingly enough this author believes Italy is set in the "Mixed Systems – Covert mixes I (Compounds – pureé – blended – where the ingredients are from similar legal and social cultures: all civil and common law systems considered are pure which are combinations of Roman law Canon law various common laws and each other […]" while Japan is in "Complex mixes 3 (hybrids with civil law and customary law" (ivi 17). Specifically on Japan as a mixed system see also I. Giraudou ‘Le Japon: une figure du droit comparé’? in P. Brunet and H. Yamamoto (eds.) Transferts des concepts juridiques en droit public (Mare & Martin: Paris 2014)(in French). As for Italy see also M Infantino ‘The Italian Legal Recipe: Basic Ingredients and the Bustle of Time’ ejcl&g 1 (2014).


S. Ōta‘Reform of Civil Procedure in Japan’ Am. J. Comp. L. 4 (2001) 561.


J.H. WigmorePanorama of the World’s Legal Systems (Washington: Washington Law Book1928) 504.


W. Röhl (ed.)History of Law in Japan since 1868 (Leiden: Brill2005) 655–681 782–788.


As of 2010. Data about Italy are available from many sources. The websites of the Italian Ministry of Justice ( and of the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura (Superior Council of the Judiciary – provide plenty of materials. However since those websites are not particularly easy to navigate and are largely written in Italian I also make reference to the elaborate Report prepared by the European Commi­ssion for the Efficiency of Justice (cepej) 143–153; 163; 165–66.


As of 2010. Also for Japan it is possible to find data from various sources. The English-speaking reader could find a concise informative report on the Supreme Court’s website ( A slightly more structured numerical analysis is provided by the Nichibenren (Japan Federation of Bar Association) in their White Paper on Attorneys published every year. The latest available edition is of 2013 available at (although more recent data are available I have decided to rely on statistics of 2010 for the sake of comparability with the same timeframe).It is possible to find a discrepancy in the figures provided by the Nichibenren and those offered by the Supreme Court. The reason is probably to be found in the fact that the Bar Associations refer to the figure set annually that should be met but actually is never met. Also in Italy the law provides for the recruitment of 10151 magistrates (including public prosecutors) a number that has never been reached.


M. Bobek‘Quantity or Quality? Reassessing the Role of Supreme Jurisdictions in Central Europe’ Am. J. Comp. L. 57 (1) (2009) 33.


F. ZénatiLa Jurisprudence (Paris: Dalloz2001) 43. The Cour itself makes it clear in its website: "En second lieu la Cour de cassation ne constitue pas après les tribunaux et les cours d’appel un troisième degré de juridiction. Elle est appelée pour l’essentiel non à trancher le fond mais à dire si en fonction des faits qui ont été souverainement appréciés dans les décisions qui lui sont déférées les règles de droit ont été correctement appliquées. C’est ce qui explique que la Cour de cassation se prononce non à proprement parler sur les litiges qui ont donné lieu aux décisions qui lui sont soumises mais sur ces décisions elles-mêmes". Cour de Cassation Présentation de la Cour de cassation


Y. Taniguchi‘The 1996 Code of Civil Procedure of Japan – A Procedure for the Coming Century?’ Am. J. Comp. L. 45 (4) (1997) 767.


J. Matsuda‘Saikōsai no hanketsujō ni okeru "iken", kotoni hantai iken – shōsū iken ni tsuite’ Juristo 774 (1982) 102.


H. ItohThe Japanese Supreme Court: Constitutional Policies (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers1989) 79.


H Itoh (n 14) 1636.


R. Sacco‘Legal Formants: A Dynamic Approach to Comparative Law (Installment i of ii)’ Am. J. Comp. L. 39 (1991) 1; Ibid Legal Formants: A Dynamic Approach to Comparative Law (Installment ii of ii)’ Am. J. Comp. L. 39 (2) (1991) 343.


A. Braun‘Professor and Judges in Italy: It Takes Two to Tango’ Oxford J. L. Stud 26 (4) (2006) 665.


For Japan D.S. Law (n 6) 1559. For Italy the cepej Report (n 24) mentions 981 disciplinary proceedings heard against Italian judges by the csm in the period 1999–2008 of which only 9 led to the removal of the concerned judge.


D.S. Law (n 6) 1552reports a quote from Lawrence Repeta Professor of Law at Omiya Law School who describes this selection as a "systematic purge" of ideologically unsuitable judges.


D.H. Foote‘The Supreme Court and the Push for Transparency in Lower Courts Appointment in Japan’ Wash. U. L. Rev. 88 (2011) 1745–17631753.


Looking at the statistics from 2010of the 903982 cases newly received in first instance 808188 (894 per cent) were classified as "related to money". Those cases normally do not imply complex reflections on sensitive issues. When they do they are treated accordingly (see infra para 10 on the Interest Limitation Act). Sōmushōtōkeikyoku Japan Statistical Yearbook 2014


D.S. Law (n 6) 1549. See also J. M. Ramseyer and E.B. Rasmusen ‘Why Are Japanese Judges so Conservative in Politically Charged Cases?’ Am. Pol. Sc. Rev. 95 (2) (2001) 331. Insertion is mine.


G. Fletcher‘Comparative Law as a Subversive Discipline’ Am. J. Comp. L 46 (4) (1998) 683–700.


S. Matsui‘Why is the Japanese Supreme Court so Conservative?’ Wash. U. L. Rev. 88 (2011) 13751407.


H. Itoh‘Judicial Review and Judicial Activism in Japan’ Law and Contemporary Problems 53 (1) (1990) 169; S. Kozuka ‘Judicial Activism of the Japanese Supreme Court in Consumer Law: Juridification of Society through Case Law’ Zeit. für Japan. R 27 (2009) 81; F.K. Upham ‘Stealth Activism: Norm Formation by Japanese Courts’ Wash. U. L. Rev 88 (2011) 1439.


M Kamiya (n 55) 1603.


S Matsui (n 90) 1415.

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