Unlike many law students, Junko Irie knew what kind of lawyer she wanted to be before even studying law.
"A prosecutor," she says, noting that while she was in high school, it was not unusual in her native Japan for a rapist to be released on probation if it was his first conviction. "I wanted to change that."
After graduating from Keio University and passing the national bar exam at age 21, Ms. Irie was appointed a public prosecutor by the Japanese government, one of 10 women among 74 new appointees. She gradually became interested in prosecuting international crimes such as terrorism.
"When I saw the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on TV, I thought, ‘What if massive terrorism took place in Japan? How could I deal with it as a public prosecutor?"
After the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway more than a decade ago by a cult group, Japan enacted the Anti-Organized Crime Law which allowed the government to collect evidence by wiretapping. However, the laws were not broad enough to deal with crimes on an international scale.
Clearly what was needed was the internationalization of laws governing criminal procedure, says Ms. Irie. "I wanted to know how we could effectively collect evidence on international terrorism and successfully prosecute terrorists."
To study this issue, Ms. Irie came to Columbia. "Detailed information on 9/11 is available, of course, but also, for me, to feel the consequences of the attacks on people's mentality was important."
During the year, Ms. Irie, 28, took courses on criminal investigation and Evidence, as well as the seminar National Security and Terrorism. She also set up a student organization called Columbia Comparative Criminal Law Association (CCCLA) with LL.M. students from other countries to exchange knowledge of criminal law. CCCLA hosted guest speakers from Columbia University and other schools. Among the experiences Ms. Irie found helpful was attending a roundtable called "The Patriot Act: Keep It, Change It, or Toss It?" The event, sponsored by the Law School, the Randolph Speakers Fund, and the National Law Journal, drew a host of criminal law and civil liberties experts, as well as representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Since the structure, role, and relationship of law enforcement and intelligence is very different in Japan, having a law exactly like the Patriot Act probably will not work," she says. "Nonetheless, I learned that taking down the walls between agencies is very important and I thought it is time for our country to think about the walls that exist between agencies."
"I am interested in criminal law because it regulates our daily life, with a big impact," she says. "My plans haven't changed, but after coming to Columbia, I see my future role more clearly."
After graduating from Columbia, she went to Arizona State University to further her study on science and law. She is taking lectures, writing papers, and having litigation practices. She plans to return to Japan next year and work.