By May 2009, Japan will introduce a lay judge system in which six ordinary citizens will sit with three professional judges to take part in trials of suspects charged with serious crimes such as murder, arson and rape. As preparations for the new system advance, the Supreme Court and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have expressed apprehension that media reports on crimes may cause lay judges to form the opinion that a defendant is guilty even before a trial starts.
In a meeting with the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association in May, the Supreme Court listed six types of information in news reports that it fears could lead to a presumption of the defendant’s guilt: (1) confessions by a suspect, (2) mention of the irrationality of a suspect’s explanations, (3) circumstantial evidence suggesting that a defendant is guilty, (4) disclosures of the suspect’s criminal record and past life, (5) information on a suspect’s past life and human relations as background to the crime and (6) comments on the crime by so-called experts and knowledgeable people.
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