Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series
Edited by Jacqueline E. Ross and Stephen C. Thaman
Chapter 11: Japan’s lay judge system
For this institution [of the American jury] is not only important in itself as a part of our court procedures; it has exerted a mighty influence upon other elements of the court process. Like iron filings around a magnet, many features of our law arrange themselves around the jury.(Benjamin Kaplan, 1961: 44)After a 60-year moratorium on lay participation in Japanese criminal justice, the lay judge system has thrown a stone into the pond of Japanese society, and the ripples are gradually, and deeply, spreading.(Satoru Shinomiya, 2010: 13)In May 2009, Japan began a new trial system in which six lay persons sit with three professional judges to adjudicate guilt and determine the sentence in serious criminal cases. This ‘lay judge system’ (saiban-in seido) places citizen participation at the center of Japanese criminal trials – and Japanese criminal justice – for the first time since 1943, when Japan’s original jury law was suspended after 15 years of fitful use (Johnson, 2002a: 42). At a time when adversarial trials in America are declining and perhaps even dying (Burns, 2009), Japan has implemented a trial reform that is so fundamental it could remake the country’s criminal justice system in the years to come. But that is no sure thing, for the new form of civilian participation might also be marginalized by Japanese legal professionals – prosecutors and professional judges especially – who have vested interests in maintaining their standard operating procedures.
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