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As the lay judge law goes into effect on May 21, another important judiciary reform goes into effect. Under a law revision, committees for the inquest of prosecution, in which ordinary citizens participate, will have more sway than before over decisions made by public prosecutors.

The inquest of prosecution was introduced in 1948 and there are now 201 committees. Under the law revision, they will be integrated into 165 committees, including 14 new committees in nine cities where crime is rampant.

Eleven people are selected for each committee from the electoral roll on a random basis. If public prosecutors decide not to indict particular suspects, the committee assesses the decision using the investigation evidence from the case. In principle, they act upon requests from crime victims, their family members or those who have filed criminal accusations or complaints against suspects. If six or more of the committee members concur, the committee states its opinion that the non-indictment is inappropriate or that an indictment must be made. Public prosecutors then must reinvestigate.

Before the law revision, an inquest of prosecution committee’s opinion was not binding regarding the indictment and public prosecutors often decided not to indict suspects after a second investigation. Now, if public prosecutors decide not to indict following a second investigation, the committee can evaluate the second decision with the help of a lawyer. If it decides again with eight or more votes that a suspect should be indicted, a different lawyer designated by the court will serve as a prosecutor to indict the suspects.

The lawyer serving as a prosecutor, however, cannot directly command the investigative authorities and could have difficulties collecting enough evidence to prosecute. To be effective, public prosecutors should learn to cooperate with such lawyers, even though their opinion may differ strongly.

The committee members, on their part, need to examine public prosecutors’ non-indictment decisions objectively and rationally. To assess decisions made by public prosecutors is a great responsibility and one that must be undertaken without being influenced by emotions.

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