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2009年2月23日 (月)

裁判員制度 綿密な準備と検証を怠るな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 23, 2009)

Leave no stone unturned for lay judge system

裁判員制度 綿密な準備と検証を怠るな(223日付・読売社説)

Less than three months remain until the lay judge system starts in Japan. The new system will allow ordinary citizens to participate as judges in criminal trials that have until now been fought only among legal professionals.


The introduction of the lay judge system will be a turning point for the nation's judiciary, which has often been criticized for being closed to the public. Meticulous preparation to alleviate the anxieties and burdens of inexperienced lay judges will be required to usher in the new system smoothly.



The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday sentenced a man to life imprisonment for killing a 23-year-old woman in Koto Ward, Tokyo. However, the trial stirred controversy when, as part of its visual evidence--apparently with the lay judge system in mind--the prosecution displayed color photographs of small pieces of the victim's dismembered body on a screen in the courtroom.


Of course, easy-to-understand presentation of evidence is needed to ensure the heinousness of a criminal case is appropriately reflected in the punishment. However, showing grisly photos will undoubtedly disturb citizen judges who are not used to seeing such images.


According to a basic outline on the lay judge system compiled by the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, a prosecutor is advised to warn lay judges before presenting gruesome photos as evidence that they should steel themselves for what they are about to see. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will set up a 24-hour telephone line to provide psychological support to lay judges.


We hope the courts and prosecutors will study further whether more support measures are necessary.



Reducing burdens

People also might feel it very burdensome to get tied up for several days during the trial. Ninety percent of trials at which lay judges will be assigned are expected to end within five days. But after notices were sent from the end of November to 295,000 eligible voters informing them they had been chosen as lay judge candidates, a special call center was flooded with inquiries regarding what conditions could allow a person to decline their candidacy, among other matters.



According to the lay judge law, senior citizens aged 70 or older, students, and people who are seriously sick or have severe impairments are among those who can decline to be lay judge candidates. However, judges, who personally interview candidates, will make decisions in many such cases.


In the early stages of the system, judges should be flexible in allowing people to withdraw from consideration if they so wish.


The understanding of companies also will be critical in making the system run smoothly.


According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, more than 70 percent of 100 major companies said they will give paid holidays to employees chosen to be lay judges. However, a survey by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry showed that only one-fourth of 300 small and midsize companies have introduced or are considering the introduction of a special-holiday system for employees chosen to be lay judges. These findings show much work remains to be done to develop a corporate environment that is accommodating of lay judges.



Laying the groundwork

Meanwhile, the judiciary has been making various preparations ahead of the start of the lay judge system.


The introduction of pretrial summary procedures is one such development. During these procedures, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers discuss likely points of contention and evidence before a trial starts in a bid to speed up the trial process. Under these procedures, the prosecution and the defense are not allowed in principle to request examination of new evidence once the trial starts.


According to a survey by the Supreme Court, murder and other criminal trials that would be subject to the lay judge system and went through pretrial summary procedures in 2007 finished in one-third of the time or less than trials that did not.


Some difficult legal terms have been paraphrased during trials to make hearings easier to understand. Prosecutors and the police have started recording some interrogations on audiotapes or videotapes to back up their cases.


Furthermore, prosecutors have set out a new policy to deal more strictly with perjury and threats against witnesses in the courtroom because testimony given at the court is considered more significant under the lay judge system.


One defendant was indicted for intimidating a witness this month at the Tokyo District Court after using abusive language toward his victim, who was appearing before the judge as a witness.



Truth trumps trial length

The introduction of the lay judge system was the result of discontent with what has been termed a "precise judiciary," in which cases rely on detailed fact-finding procedures. Though the system has helped unearth the truth in criminal cases, it often results in prolonged court proceedings.


The leniency of penalties handed down to perpetrators of malicious crimes and accidents was one factor that fueled public distrust in the judiciary. Rulings that gave excessive consideration to precedents also sometimes betrayed the general public's desire to see heavier punishments meted out.


The Justice System Reform Council, which proposed the introduction of the lay judge system, stated in its written opinion in 2001 that people's understanding of and support for the judiciary will deepen provided the healthy common sense of society is reflected in court decisions.


In a nutshell, criminal trials serve two purposes: to uncover the truth, and to appropriately and promptly apply criminal laws and legal regulations.



Under the lay judge system, court proceedings will need to be carried out more swiftly than they are now. As a result, it likely will become more difficult to get into the finer details of a criminal's motive and background in rulings.


Nevertheless, it would be unacceptable to conduct court proceedings in a slipshod manner that neglects the court's responsibility to discover the truth.


The Hiroshima High Court decision in December on the 2005 murder of a 7-year-old girl in the city sounded an alarm bell to that effect. The court criticized a district court ruling for failing to specify the crime scene because it put priority on shortening the time for court proceedings. The high court dismissed the district court ruling and returned it to the lower court.



Judges will be put to the test

The Supreme Court was absolutely right to have pointed out in its report on mock trials held in preparation for the lay judge system that uncovering the truth is eminently more important than shortening the time spent on court proceedings. The ability of professional judges to show leadership during proceedings under the lay judge system also will be put to the test over such issues as whether sufficient discussions were held in pretrial summary procedures.


A series of irregularities involving judges and a Family Court clerk have been exposed recently. Those in the judicial world should keep in mind that judges and court officials are the ones upon whom trust for the judicial system rests--a prerequisite for the people's participation in the lay judge system.


The lay judge system is scheduled to be reviewed three years after it is put into practice, if necessary.


The Supreme Court set up a panel of experts to verify how the lay judge system will be implemented. The Justice Ministry also plans to establish an organization tasked with examining the system and its implementation. It is essential that all parties concerned are ready to reform whatever needs to be changed, by going over the system with a fine-tooth comb and closely working with each other.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2009)

20092230148  読売新聞)


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