The head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said Thursday that opening the Japanese trial system to participation by citizens will be inevitable because society is moving toward civic authority.
Kazumasa Kuboi, president of the 18,000-strong association, said in a lecture in Tokyo organized by K.K. Kyodo News, a Kyodo News affiliate, that judicial reform, which is now being studied by the government, is part of a wider trend toward shifting power to citizens.
He also said people should cooperate with legal professionals in trials as a means to self-determination.
“The system led by an elite, including legal professionals, works well for a developing country,” he said. “But Japan has become a developed country. The time has come for joint work.”
Under the judicial system, only professional judges examine cases and work out rulings. A government panel is studying introducing a system in which lay judges chosen from the public examine court cases alongside professional judges.
Kuboi said Japanese traditionally depend on professionals and authorities and are dubious of the reliability of regular citizens in court trials. But he said it is necessary for citizens in a democratic society to share the burden and work with professionals.
Kuboi pointed to Akiko Domoto’s victory in the Chiba gubernatorial election Sunday as an example of the rise of citizens’ movements. Domoto was not backed by any political party and based her support solely on citizens’ groups.
He also called Wednesday’s Tokyo District Court ruling acquitting hemophilia expert Takeshi Abe — who was accused of professional negligence resulting in the death of one of his patients from AIDS — “a good chance” to consider civic participation in the trial system.
He said the acquittal of Abe, at the center of an HIV infection scandal involving the death of more than 500 hemophiliacs, was unexpected and against public opinion. Kuboi said he expects the ruling to promote discussion on the introduction of the citizen-participation system.
But Kuboi also noted that in this system it would become difficult to objectively examine facts if citizens’ emotional views are overemphasized.
The government’s Judicial Reform Council is scheduled to issue a final report in June; an interim report called for citizen participation in trials and for more lawyers and the establishment of law schools modeled on the U.S. system.
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