Japan begins first trial under lay judge system

[JURIST] Japan began its first trial under the new lay judge system at the Tokyo District Court [official website, in Japanese] on Monday. Katsuyoshi Fujii is on trial for the murder of his neighbor, a South Korean woman. The proceedings began with the selection of six lay judges [Mainichi Daily News report] and three backups by a lottery system after the pool was narrowed down based on interviews. The panel also includes three professional judges. Of the 73 lay judge candidates summoned by the court, 47 appeared [Kyodo News report] Monday. The law specifies that failure to appear when summoned could result in a fine. Because Fujii has already admitted to killing his neighbor, the trial will focus on the appropriate sentence, and a decision is expected to be reached within several days. The lay judge system has caused controversy, and demonstrators gathered outside the court Monday to protest a system that would require them to stand in judgment of fellow citizens, which they believe violates the constitutional principles of freedom of thought and conscience.

The lay judge system was set to get in effect on May 1, but was postponed after 20 members of the Japanese parliament, the National Diet, formed a nonpartisan group to delay [JURIST report] its implementation. The group had concerns over rules governing disclosure and trial duration, along with the belief that the members of public will not be prepared make decisions in serious cases. The Supreme Court of Japan [official website, in Japanese] has said that approximately one out of every four citizens would not be eligible to serve as lay judges. Those who are ineligible to serve include policemen and security personnel. Others are given the option of serving, including those who are over the age of 70, are full time students, or have serious medical conditions. Japan previously experimented with a jury system from 1928 to 1943 in which only males over the age of 30 could participate.

 

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