Does Japan owe its tradition of judicial independence to Czar Nicholas II?

Sort of, according to this wonderful article in the Japan Times. It relates how the Japanese courts, operating under the country’s nascent constitution in 1891, refused to bow to political pressure in Japan’s own “trial of the century.” And the Czar-to-be played an important cameo role.

The trial stemmed from a botched attempt to assassinate Nicholas II, then Crown Prince of Russia, during a visit to a village near Kyoto in May 1891. While Nicholas would survive his wounds, the Japanese were deeply embarrassed and afraid of Russian retaliation. In a meeting with Prime Minister Matsutaka Masayoshi a few days after the incident, Chief Judge Kojima Korekata was told that the assailant, who had survived the attack, should face a quick trial and execution. Kojima found only two problems with this request-turned-directive: the defendant was still entitled to a fair trial, and the law in any event did not permit the death penalty.

I won’t give away all the details here, suffice it to say that the courts acted independently and honorably even as the state prosecutor tried to game the system to ensure a politically palatable result. Read the whole thing.

Aside from a fascinating piece of history, the story nicely illustrates how unexpected real-world events can test a judiciary and shape its culture for decades after the fact.

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