The head of a government panel on judicial reform submitted a draft proposal Tuesday advocating the appointment of four “citizen judges” to work alongside three professional judges at trials.

The number of private citizen judges who will be involved in trial proceedings has been a focus of debate.

Under the reform plan, members of the electorate older than 25 would be chosen at random to work alongside judges in criminal trials.

The planned system is similar to the lay judge systems operating in Germany and France. Japan’s plan would be unique in that citizen judges would be given the same authority as professional judges in determining verdicts and in sentencing those who have been convicted.

The proposal, presented to a meeting of the committee by panel chief Masahito Inoue, a professor at the University of Tokyo, would see the media barred from contacting citizen judges.

Regarding a controversial proposal aimed at restricting trial reports and thereby preventing citizen judges from being unduly influenced, Inoue’s draft merely states that the issue will be discussed after the media sets its own rules on the matter.

The committee forms part of a judicial reform task force chaired by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The task force will debate these issues on the basis of the proposal, devise a tentative framework and submit relevant bills to the Diet next year.

On balancing the ratio of professional and citizen judges, the proposal reflects a majority opinion within the panel that there should be three professional judges.

Though the proposal advocates the inclusion of four civilians, the proposal remains open to the possibility of using five or six upon further discussion.

Citizen judges would be used in cases that could involve the death penalty or life imprisonment, or in cases where a deliberate criminal act resulted in the death of the victim, the proposal says.

The verdict has to be agreed upon by a majority of the seven judges, with at least one professional and one citizen judge advocating the majority decision.

As for expediting judicial procedures, another key reform objective, the proposal states that prosecutors should make available to the defense a broad range of evidence during trial preparations. It also states that defense lawyers should stipulate the claims they plan to present in court.

The proposal stipulates that the two sides cannot change their claims after the preparation period, other than in exceptional cases.

The task force was scheduled to present a tentative framework at a panel meeting Oct. 10. They decided against doing so after the Liberal Democratic Party said it should not be submitted until after the Nov. 9 general election.

Instead, Inoue presented the proposal in his capacity as head of the panel Tuesday.

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