Bill to begin citizen-judge system clears Lower House

A judicial reform bill designed to introduce a lay judge system in Japan cleared the House of Representatives on Friday, with the support of both the ruling and opposition parties.

Government officials said the new judicial system will probably be adopted in 2009 for trials involving murder and other serious crimes, provided the bill clears the House of Councilors before the current Diet session adjourns June 16.

Allowing the general public to take part in criminal court procedures is a pillar of the judicial reform measures. Any eligible voter over 20 can be appointed as a lay judge by lot.

The government says participation in court sessions of this kind is basically a public obligation. But citizens could opt out for specific personal reasons, including religious beliefs, business and poor health.

The bill foresees six citizens working alongside three professional judges in court.

Prior to Friday’s vote, lawmakers of the ruling and opposition camps made changes to the government-drafted bill to ease penalties for lay judges concerning information leaks.

Under the revised bill, lay judges could face up to six months in prison or a fine of up to 500,000 yen if they leak personal information on people involved in the trials.