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2013年1月 7日 (月)

裁判員裁判 検証結果を制度定着に生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 7, 2013)
Top court's review should lead to improved lay judge trials
裁判員裁判 検証結果を制度定着に生かせ(1月6日付・読売社説)

To ensure the lay judge system becomes well-established, it is important to steadily rectify every shortcoming that was mentioned in the latest review of the system.

More than 34,000 people have so far served as lay judges or supplementary lay judges. In December, the Supreme Court compiled a review of how the citizen judge system has performed in the three years since its launch in May 2009. This was the first review of its kind.

Lay judge trials have tended to hand down punishments that are either the same as or more severe than sentences sought by the prosecution. In particular, lay judge trials have tended to mete out heavier penalties than demanded by prosecutors in cases involving despicable sexual offenses, according to the review.

This is probably because citizen judges have tended to draw conclusions that better reflect the sentiments of ordinary people. They are not bound by conventional trial practices in which professional judges generally hand down sentences 20 percent lighter than demanded by the prosecution.


Speed up pretrial arrangements

The average number of days spent on court proceedings from the start of a court session to sentencing is about six, according to the top court's review. The trial process, which took an average of about six months when carried out by only professional judges, has been greatly sped up.

On the other hand, pretrial arrangement proceedings that judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers hold before opening court hearings with the aim of narrowing down points of contention have been getting longer. In cases last year in which defendants denied the charges against them, pretrial arrangement proceedings took an average of nearly nine months, the review showed.

A certain period of time is certainly required to clarify the main points of dispute in a trial. But the longer it takes for court hearings to start, the more witnesses' memories can fade. This raises concerns that questioning in court could be impeded.

To correct this situation, prosecutors need to be more willing to disclose items of evidence, and defense lawyers to complete their arguments as swiftly as possible.

It is also problematic that prosecutors in public hearings spend a considerable time reading out documents, including depositions by the accused.

Many people who have served as lay judges were cited in the review as saying that reading out these documents took too long and was monotonous, and that they were unable to maintain their concentration and remember what the prosecutors said.

This alarming situation runs counter to the very basis of the lay judge system, which was intended to make court proceedings easier to understand for ordinary citizens.


Lessen burden on citizen judges

We think prosecutors should focus more on substantiating their assertions primarily through testimony from the accused, witnesses and others to make it easier for lay judges to make decisions, instead of depending on documents.

In addition, more consideration must be given to prevent citizen judges from being weighed down by their heavy workload.

In the trial in which the Tottori District Court on Dec. 4 gave a female defendant the death penalty for her involvement in two mysterious deaths, lay judges had to sit at a trial that lasted 75 days--the second longest since the lay judge system started.

The defendant was indicted on charges of drowning two male acquaintances, but there were no direct items of evidence such as a confession by the defendant, who remained silent during questioning through the hearings.

Looking back at the proceedings, one lay judge said at a news conference after the trial, "Sentencing [the defendant to death] was painful and severe." This comment indicated the citizen judges may have felt pressured to make an extremely difficult judgment.

To help alleviate lay judges' fatigue, courts should be considerate enough to let them take regular breaks, and show photographic evidence not in color but in black and white to lessen the psychological impact of traumatic images.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 6, 2013)
(2013年1月6日01時21分  読売新聞)


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