• Kyodo News

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About 21 percent of the people who have served as lay judges in criminal trials since the new system got off the ground a year ago say they felt that professional judges tried to influence their judgment, a survey says.

More than 5,200 ordinary people have served on panels composed of six lay and three professional judges at 60 district courts and convicted and sentenced 903 of the 904 people tried in 858 cases, acquitting only one, since the first lay judge trial opened Aug. 3 in Tokyo, according to a tally by Kyodo News.

Of those involved, including alternates, 210 people at 33 district courts responded to the survey, with 73 percent saying that they didn’t think the presiding judge or the other professional judges directed them in their closed-door deliberations on whether to convict or what sentence to give.

But 6 percent said the professional judges tried to influence them and 15 percent said the professionals tried “somewhat,” for a total of 21 percent of the respondents.

A man who took part in a trial at the Tokyo District Court said that after the lay judges decided what they thought would be the appropriate punishment for the defendant, their deliberations changed direction after a professional judge produced information on precedents.

The man said he felt that under those circumstances, there was no point in having nonprofessional people involved.

Another man who also served at the Tokyo court said he felt that a “point of compromise” was decided based on remarks by the professional judges, though he wouldn’t go so far as to say they had been led.

A man who took part in a trial at the Kobe District Court raised questions about the rule for reaching a decision that requires support from a majority of the nine judges, including at least one professional judge.

He said that in the case he sat on, while all six lay judges sought a sentence of 30 years, it ended up as eight years due to the decision of the professional judges.

Under the lay judge system, serious crimes are tried at district courts with six ordinary people selected by lot sitting alongside three professional judges. In cases where they decide to convict, they also determine an appropriate sentence.

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