Start of the lay judge system in Japan

Start of the lay judge system in Japan

The new lay judge (Saiban-in) system began in Japan on 21 May 2009. Under this system ordinary citizens will participate in criminal proceedings with professional judges. Six lay judges will be chosen randomly to serve in the first, lower court trials alongside three judges in examining cases involving serious crimes, such as murder, robbery resulting in death or bodily injury, arson of an inhabited structure etc, bodily injury resulting in death, and dangerous driving resulting in death. Lay judges will determine facts, and decide sentences with an authority basically equivalent to that of professional judges. The first case to be tried under this new lay judge system will be a murder case, which is scheduled to start on 3 August and run for four consecutive days at the Tokyo District Court. 

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) carried out a strong public relations campaign regarding the positive significance of the implementation of the lay judge system. While traditionally the courts have been run exclusively by professional judges in Japan, the JFBA has long proposed a system that would allow ordinary citizens to take part in the judicial process. The participation of citizens in the administration of justice will give an important impetus to a fundamental change in the way of administering criminal justice in Japan, where under the name of precise judicial decisions and clarification of the truth, a situation described as written statement trials and hostage administration of justice, ie, suspects are not released until they give confessions, was created. The JFBA believes that the lay judge system will contribute to a change to an administration of criminal justice centred on active court activities in public open trials with adequate disclosure of evidence and adequate preparations for an open court. 

From the perspective of ensuring adequate attorney activities and adequate activities of the lay judges during examination and proceedings, the JFBA stated its opinions regarding the operation of the lay judge system, covering such matters as pre-trial conference procedures, the way to carry out proceedings, the multiple selection of court-appointed counsel, issues dealing with interviews, bail, and public announcements. The JFBA also stated its opinions concerning the operation of the system including an opinion on seeking the formation of an examination agency to monitor the operation of the system, a written request for enhancing the environment for implementing the lay judge system such as the provision of child care services for the lay judges, and an opinion paper regarding deliberation of juvenile referral cases. 

The JFBA also actively undertook initiatives to create nationwide attorney readiness sufficient both qualitatively and quantitatively. Across Japan efforts were made directed at, readying directories of lawyers and backup lawyers for lay judge trials, the selection of multiple lawyers, and a system of cooperation between the head office and branches. In addition, in order to ensure sufficient attorney activity, a large number of practical training sessions were held across the country, including live broadcast training sessions covering the whole country at once, participatory training, and model courts. Many of the JFBA’s members participated in these sessions. 

The JFBA will devote its energy to addressing such issues as achieving a straight-forward system for lay judge participation, transparency in investigations and court procedures, and reducing the confidentiality duty of the lay judges, as well as to achieving penal procedures where the rights of suspects and defendants are fully protected, including the full videotaping of interrogations.