The Tokyo District Court announced Thursday it will now inform lay judge candidates in advance that they may be exposed to gruesome photographs of crime scenes and will allow them to be excused if they fear they could be traumatized.
The Supreme Court said it sent a notice on July 26 to other district courts nationwide advising them to do the same.
Under the new practice, requests by prosecutors to use shocking photos as evidence might be turned down if illustrations or other images can be used instead.
If the use of photographs is deemed necessary, prospective lay judges, who are randomly chosen by lottery from voter rolls, will be notified during the selection process that they may be exposed to graphic evidence.
Candidates who express fear and say they would like to be excused from lay judge duty will be given due consideration by court officials, a spokesman for the Tokyo District Court said.
Until now, lay judges have been given no prior knowledge of what kind of evidence they were going to face.
In an unprecedented move, a woman in her 60s who served as a lay judge at the Fukushima District Court sued the government in May over the emotional stress she claimed she suffered from her experience on the bench, where she was shown color photos of a victim’s body in a robbery-murder case.
She said that after seeing the evidence, she threw up during a recess, and that she has suffered flashbacks at night, harming her ability to sleep. She has been diagnosed with an acute stress disorder and was receiving treatment at the time she filed the suit.
In the wake of this incident, judges at the Tokyo District Court discussed various measures last month to alleviate the stress placed on lay judges. The decision to give the candidates prior warning was one of the ideas that emerged.
In a further attempt to assist lay judges, the court will oblige professional judges to keep a close eye on how their civil counterparts are reacting to evidence. After their trial is over, lay judges suffering any distress will be encouraged to talk to the professional judges they worked with, the court spokesman said.
The introduction of the lay judge system marks its fourth anniversary this month. As of the end of March, 29,280 people had served as a lay judge while another 10,081 had served as alternates, according to the Supreme Court.