Former lay judge blames stress disorder on trial, may sue

JIJI, Kyodo

A woman who served as a lay judge for a robbery-murder case in March has been diagnosed with an acute stress disorder she blames in part on graphic pictures viewed during the trial and might sue the state for redress.

The woman, who is in her 60s and lives in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, is considering suing the government for ¥1.6 million in compensation, her lawyer said Thursday.

The name of the woman was not revealed because she wishes to exercise her lay judge right to remain anonymous.

According to the Supreme Court, no lay judge has ever received government compensation for occupational injury caused by mental disorders since the system was introduced in 2009.

Some experts believe the case points to a need to make more psychological counseling available to lay judges.

The woman was selected to participate in the Fukushima District Court trial that eventually found Akihiko Takahashi, 46, guilty of murdering a couple. The trial, held at the Koriyama branch, began March 4 and ended with his being sentenced to death on March 14.

During the trial, the woman was shown color images of the murder scene and stab wounds. She also listened to a recording of the slain woman’s ambulance call.

At a press conference after the ruling, the former lay judge said she vomited during one of the lunch breaks after recalling the crime scene.

According to her husband and other sources, the woman began to lose her appetite during the trial and started having nightmares. Her symptoms now include nausea and insomnia.

The woman contacted the Supreme Court’s counseling support center but turned down its offer of free counseling because she was told she would have to go down to Tokyo to be treated.

After consulting a doctor at a general hospital in Koriyama in late March, she was diagnosed with an acute stress disorder.

Her husband told reporters that support for lay judges should be improved.

Yuri Watanabe, deputy public prosecutor at the Fukushima District Public Prosecutor’s Office, said the evidence was submitted to the panel of lay and professional judges because the duty of the prosecutors is to reach the correct verdict by informing the judges of the facts, although the potential psychological burden on citizen judges is taken into consideration.