• Kyodo

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Police arrested two men Friday on suspicion of approaching lay judges during the trial of a senior member of a crime syndicate, the first such arrests since Japan’s lay judge system was introduced in 2009.

Kimikazu Nakamura, 41, and Toshimi Kusumoto, 40, allegedly made comments that could be interpreted as intimidating the lay judges to find in favor of the defendant.

The arrests came as more people are refusing to participate in the lay judge system, which was created to better reflect citizens’ views in criminal court proceedings.

Under the system, three professional and six lay judges hear criminal cases such as murder and rape.

The incident took place ahead of a court decision on the trial of a senior member of the Kudo-kai yakuza group based in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Investigative sources claim Nakamura, a salaried worker, and Kusumoto, a former gang member associated with the Kudo-kai, approached the two lay judges at a bus stop near the Fukuoka District Court’s Kokura branch on May 10, when the first trial hearing of the senior gang member was held.

The two allegedly identified themselves as acquaintances of the defendant and said to the lay judges something like, “Thank you in advance” and “You were at the trial. I remember your faces.”

The gangster was indicted for attempted murder in November for allegedly trying to kill a male acquaintance with a Japanese sword. His trial ended May 12.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that the arrests were part of ongoing efforts to clamp down on attempts to intimidate lay judges.

“It is extremely important for citizens serving as lay judges to be able to make fair and accurate judgments without having to carry an excessive burden,” the top government spokesman said.

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