Popular Participation in the Japanese Legal Process
Edited by Leon Wolff, Luke Nottage and Kent Anderson
Chapter 2: Judging Japan’s new criminal trials: early returns from 2009
In August 2009 Japan began a new trial system in which citizens sit with professional judges to adjudicate guilt and determine sentence in serious criminal cases. This change injects a meaningful dose of lay participation into Japanese criminal trials for the first time in 66 years. Japan had a jury system of sorts from 1928 to 1943, but it was seldom used for several reasons: because defendants could choose whether to be tried by jury and, when they elected that form of adjudication, they were required to relinquish certain rights to appeal; because the jury only answered a set of interrogatories framed by a judge who could reject its findings of fact; because jury trials were expensive and difficult to administer; and because (some analysts believe) a Japanese preference for hierarchy caused defendants to prefer judgment by professionals rather than by peers. The old jury system also generated much higher acquittal rates than those that prevailed before or since – 17 percent for the nation as a whole and more than 60 percent in some cities – leading some prosecutors and judges to welcome the demise of an institution that made it difficult for the state to convict (Johnson, 2002, p._42; Hayashi, 1987). By 1943 the Pacific War was turning against Japan, and the nation’s leaders came to view the jury system as an extravagance (Johnston, 2009; Okahara, 1943). The original Jury Act (No. 50 of 1923) was suspended that year; while the law was in force, only 484 persons chose to be tried by their peers – less than 2 percent of all eligible defendants.
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