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Epoch-making judiciary reform is starting as lay judges prepare to sit for trials of suspects indicted on and after May 21 on charges of serious crimes such as murder, arson and kidnapping for ransom. But many people are not enthusiastic about it because the system has been implemented from above. The Supreme Court and the government should have the courage to quickly mend any problems with the system so that it receives public support.

Six lay judges and three professional judges will sit for a district court-level trial. A majority decision, with the support of at least one professional judge, is needed for a guilty ruling. The possibility of having to pass a death sentence is causing great stress to some citizens. To lessen their burden and to increase the ruling’s credibility, a rule that makes a unanimous decision mandatory for passing a death sentence should be seriously considered.

The scope of evidence to be used for a trial and the points of contention are narrowed down in a pretrial procedure. To ensure a fair trial, the government should make it obligatory for the prosecution to disclose all evidence, both disadvantageous and advantageous to defendants, during the procedure.

A 2004 revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits lawyers and defendants from showing or handing copies of evidence they have received from the prosecution to third parties. This could diminish the right of defendants to defend themselves and limit the freedom of the press. The government should remove punishment for lawyers and defendants who pass copies of evidence to third parties for legitimate purposes.

The police and the prosecution, meanwhile, have resisted recording the entire process of interrogation of criminal suspects onto DVD, opting for partial recording only. Partial recording, however, could omit crucial incidents in the confession process and complicate the proceedings, especially in cases where suspects withdraw earlier confessions.

The strict gag order on lay judges should be lessened to some extent. Their talking about concrete complaints and difficulties would help improve the system.

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