The lay judge system was introduced by force on May 21, 2009, amid a strong opposition of vast majority, to an extent of 80%, of citizens. It is three years since the introduction and it is time to review the system as the Lay Judge Act stipulates. Concerned, essential points have been focused lately and a full scale debates will begin. Let's look into the constraints seen in the lay judge system
EXCLUDE CASES OF POSSIBLE DEATH PENALTY FROM LAY JUDGE TRIALS
A Fig Leaf
The Lay Judge system was formulated as one axis of the reform policy package. It is based on the Letter of Advisory Opinions from the Government Panel on Judicial Reform issued in 2001. Its subtitle is Toward Judicial System to Sustain Japan of the 21st Century.
In other words the lay judge system was born amid growing gaps resulted from the neo-liberal policies, under which people got more dissatisfied and indignant. The government said that a judicial reform served to re-structure and enhance the administrative mechanism as a whole. The so-called participation of citizens in the judiciary, however, constitutes a fig of leaf to conceal ambition of the state power.
The New Socialist Party (NSP) opposed its introduction and demanded to withdraw and abolish the lay judge system as it is unconstitutional; because (1) the right of people to access to a trial stipulated in the Constitution is guaranteed by court judges and the Constitution does not set forth people's participation in the judiciary and (2) when a citizen is obliged to take part in a trial of a serious case, representing similar authority as that of court judges, restricted are his/her rights to seek freedom and happiness guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled last November for the first time that it is 'constitutional' in the suit filed to inquire constitutionality of the lay judge system. Nobody was surprised with the decision as the said Court had principally led to introducing the system.
Death Penalty Issued in 13 Trials
In total 18,871 people took part as citizen judges till the end of January this year since the system introduction, and the figure reaches 25,000, if complementary judges are included.
Indictment of defendant counts 4,840 in the trials handled by lay judges; out of which 1,177 for robbery with bodily injury, 1,004 for murder, 448 for arson and 423 for violation of Drug Control Act in descending order. By the end of March this year decisions were handed down in 3604 trials, out of which death penalty was issued in 13 trials, life imprisonment in 75 and full acquittal in 17 trials.
The length of court proceedings gets extended. An average serving period as a lay judge as of every January-end is: 3.5 days in 2010, 4.2 days in 2011 and 4.6 days in 2012. A period required for preliminary arrangements before a trial, in which contentious points are clarified, gets longer, too: on the average it took 5.6 months as of January-end 2012 from the initial moment, compared with 3.1 months as of January-end 2010, the former being 1.7 times longer.
A Hundred Days of Compulsory Assignment
One of the longest trials held in Tokyo metropolitan area was a case involved in serial suspicious deaths. The trial relied only on 'indirect evidences', which was quite hard. The trial held 36 hearings and the lay judges stayed for 100 days in the court. On April 13, Defendant Kijima Kanae was handed down a death sentence in the Saitama District Court as the prosecutor had requested. The defendant appealed.
Six of the ex-lay judges have experienced issuing a death penalty, though the decisions have not yet been finalized. The psychological burden is heavy for them. They are obliged to keep information they obtained in the proceedings confidential throughout their lifetime.
A panel, the Examination Council on Lay Judge System of the Ministry of Justice started debates last March to review the system. It is said the experts will study a scope of cases handled by lay judges. Some insist to exclude sexual offenses and drug trafficking cases. Others study cases cautiously in which a death penalty might be given.
If it is hard to abolish the lay judge system at the moment, it is advisable to exclude from the scope of lay judge trials cases in which a death penalty might be demanded.
May 22, 2012