Saturday, March 26, 2005

Juries in Japan?

An Associated Press report calls them "juries." Jury Duty 101: New courtroom for citizen participation shown, The Japan Times (online) (March 25, 2005).

A law journal article calls them "lay assessors." Kent Anderson & Mark Nolan, Lay Participation in the Japanese Justice System: A Few Preliminary Thoughts Regarding the Lay Assessor System (saiban-in seido) from Domestic Historical and International Psychological Perspectives, 37 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law L. 935 (October, 2004).

Regardless of the label, Japan has resolved to implement a "mixed court" procedure that will have some of the attributes of the sort of trial by jury that is found here in the U.S. -- and, fairly said, relatively more of the attributes of some European systems that require the participation of both legally-trained judges and lay "assessors," or judges.

Anderson & Nolan write (footnotes omitted):

On May 21, 2004, the Japanese Diet passed an act creating a lay assessor system. ...

The key features of the new law include the following. First, in contested cases the panel will be composed of six lay members and three professional judges. For cases in which the defendant has confessed or does not dispute the charges, the panel will be made up of four lay persons and one professional judge. In both events, the panel will determine the verdict and sentence by a simple majority of all members, although at least one layperson and one judge must consent to the majority. The proceeding will apply to defendants accused of crimes where the maximum penalty is death or indefinite imprisonment with hard labor, or where the victim dies because of an intentional criminal act. ... Finally, the law provides that the procedure will come into force "within five years of its publication" - viz., by May 2009.

The AP report quoted (above) in The Japan Times (online) states:
They tried on the black robes, sat in the high-backed chairs, and asked about everything from what to wear to how long they'd be away from work. It was just the basics for Japan's opening day of Jury Duty 101.

Organized by the Justice Ministry, last week's seminar at a Tokyo courthouse offered the public its first chance to find out about jury trials being introduced as part of the country's most drastic judicial reforms since the war.

At present, courts only rely on panels of three judges.

The new system, expected to start by 2009, would let ordinary citizens be jurors, giving them the right to determine guilt or innocence in serious criminal cases.

Can revised rules of evidence (in Japan) be far behind?
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