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Japanese citizen judge sues government for mental suffering

Kyodo

A 62-year-old woman who served as a citizen judge in a murder case sued the government Tuesday for ¥2 million, arguing her involvement in the trial caused her to suffer acute stress disorder.

The resident of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, was one of the six lay judges who in March, together with three professional judges of the Koriyama branch of the Fukushima District Court, sentenced a man to death for killing a married couple.

In the suit filed with the Sendai District Court, the woman asserts that the lay judge system runs counter to the constitutional ban against the state imposing involuntary servitude on people.

Article 18 of the Constitution states: “No person shall be held in bondage of any kind. Involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, is prohibited.”

The suit notes that under the law on the lay judge system, the government can fine someone who refuses to respond to calls from judicial authorities to serve as a lay judge.

Judicial sources said this is the first lawsuit filed by a former lay judge against the citizen judge system since it was established under a set of revised laws enacted in 2004. People began in 2009 to serve as lay judges in trials for heinous crimes such as murder, robbery, arson and rape.

The woman also argues that Diet members who voted for the new system committed serious negligence.

According to the suit, the woman attended all nine days of the trial and vomited on the first day of the proceedings after seeing color photos showing the murder site.

Afterward, she suffered flashbacks from the photos and awoke frequently at night, according to the suit.

She was diagnosed at a hospital in Fukushima Prefecture as suffering from an acute stress disorder and remains under medical treatment, her lawsuit claims.

After filing the suit with the court, the woman told reporters that her main purpose is to spare other people from experiencing similar mental trauma.

Akihiko Takahashi, 46, was handed the death sentence March 14. He has filed an appeal.

Several citizen judges told reporters after the verdict that they suffered mental trauma, saying they saw not only the photos of the murder site but also heard during the trial the recorded voices of the victims in an emergency call to the authorities.