Within two years, the lay judge system will be introduced in Japan. Citizens will be able to have their opinions directly reflected in initial, lower-court trials for heinous crimes. But the system will impose new civic duties and burdens on citizens. It is imperative that the courts, the bar and the government make efforts to assuage citizens’ worries about being selected as a lay judge and to make it easy for them to serve. Six lay judges will sit together with three professional judges. Together they will determine guilt or innocence and hand down sentences by majority vote.

So far, about 170 mock trials have been held to promote the new system. At the end of May, the Tokyo District Court started a three-day mock trial and carried out the lay-judge selection process for the first time. Fifty people selected at random from 20 companies were issued summonses and questionnaires. The process to narrow the list of candidates shows that the court needs to be more flexible.

One person, who had to take intensive English lessons as well as transfer business duties to another person in preparation for study abroad from late June, asked to be excluded. Another person, who had to teach classes at a university during the scheduled trial days, also asked to be excluded. The court did not accept either request. The Justice Ministry should study various cases and compile a convincing list of reasons that will allow citizens to be excluded as lay-judge candidates.

One problem facing lay judges is the legal jargon. Both prosecutors and lawyers should be given sufficient training to present their cases in plain language. Electronic recordings of defendants’ confessions during the investigation stage will be widely used in the new system. The danger here is that investigators may arbitrarily decide what parts of a confession to record.

Hasty decisions also must be avoided in sorting out points of contention and admissible evidence before the start of a trial. The courts, the bar and the government must strive to solve every conceivable problem before the new system starts.

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