The “saiban-in” (lay judge) system thrusts ordinary citizens into a position of responsibility in major criminal trials, and efforts are underway to prepare them better to handle the evidence they may see and the decisions they may face.
In 2012, the Osaka Bar Association produced an interactive Windows-based simulator that gives players a taste of what they may experience as a citizen judge.
The software proved popular, and this year a version for smartphones was released. The two versions have been downloaded more than 40,000 times in total.
Saiban-in started in May 2009 with the partial aim of making the court system “more intelligible for ordinary citizens by cooperating with judges to make court judgments,” the website of the Supreme Court says.
One lesson learned so far is that candidates may benefit from a greater awareness of legal procedures. However, this is difficult to impart given that most individuals have little or no contact with the court system, said Sachiko Iida, a lawyer who devised the idea behind the computer application.
“A mock trial is a very good opportunity for people to learn the actual procedures in court — and the mindset of the people involved,” she said. “But there is a limit when you try to educate citizens about legal matters because only a couple of dozen people can participate in a mock trial at once.”
Iida believed a computer simulation might help. Not only would it mimic the procedures in court, it might also get users thinking about how they would reach that all-important decision on a verdict.
Her hobby was developing video games, so she spoke with some authority when she approached her bar association and proposed a law-related educational application.
“Some were skeptical at first that a video game could simulate complex court procedures, but once they tried playing it, many praised its quality,” Iida said. “We thought it might catch public attention, as it is unprecedented for a group of professional lawyers to create a video game.”
She was taken aback by its impact: “The reaction was more than we had expected.”
The game was developed from scratch under the supervision of professional lawyers. It generated a buzz among young Internet users, thanks to high-quality anime graphics and a clever backstory.
It puts the player in the role of lay judge for an arson trial. Evidence is presented and the player must form a judgment in cooperation with other characters on the panel — whose opinions may differ.
It does not offer correct answers nor a supposedly correct ending, just like real-world trials.
As each individual’s judgment plays a large part in reaching the final verdict, players need to deal seriously with the decision-making process while observing court rules. It teaches them the principles of the legal process and shows them what it is like to stand between a plaintiff and a defendant.
Core players to date appear to be in their 20s and 30s, but at least one elementary school pupil has played it, as has someone older than 80, Iida said.
The game’s Windows version is available for free at www.osakaben.or.jp/web/saibangame/ .
The mobile version, for iOS and Android devices, can be obtained via Apple’s App Store and Google Play.