Book review: 『裁判官失格』 by Ryuichi Takahashi

Introduction

Title: 『裁判官失格』 (さいばんかんしっかく)
Author: Ryuichi TAKAHASHI (高橋隆一)
Published by SB新書
187 pages

In this book, the author talks about his experience as a judge.

Review

I bought this book because the obi announced that it would be about 死刑にすべきを無期懲役, among other things. I recently read a book on the death penalty that showed that the frontier between death penalty and life imprisonment can be dreadfully thin. Since then, I am interested in reading more on this topic. The title of this book with the word 失格, and the obi with its big 申し訳ありません and its mention of 告白 hint that the book might be about wrongful convictions.

This is the advertisement made by the publisher:

Unfortunately, the content is not even close to what the obi suggests. The death penalty topic is barely touched upon, and there is nothing to support the title. All that the author says is that judges struggle and doubt too, which seems obvious, but there are not enough concrete examples or cases that would show in which way a judge can make errors.

The chapters are also incredibly short (1 or 2 pages, sometimes a little more). Every time the author would talk about something interesting and promising or evoke a case, I would think that I had just read some kind of introduction, and that we would dive into this topic in the next pages. But then I turned the page and realised that this chapter was over and that we were moving on to another topic. I was disappointed many times.

Overall, it looks like the author wanted to talk about being a judge, rather than introduce the reader to the judiciary and the behind-the-scenes secrets. It also feels that, in spite of the catchy title, the author does not have much to reveal. Another thing that surprised me is the absence of structure. There are parts and chapters, but the book does not have any argumentative structure. It is more like a juxtaposition of thoughts and recollections. It also feels like the author is just talking about what he remembers, it does not feel like there is any work of research behind the book.

Overall, this book was not was I was looking for, I wanted to read a more researched and argumentative work on the judicial system in Japan. Moreover, this book definitely suffers from an overly catchy title and obi. The content, while being interesting, is quite pale compared to what was advertised, so it is easy to be disappointed.