~Lay Judge System~
The Lay Judge System is a system which the citizens participate in criminal trials as lay judge (Saiban-in in Japanese), and review and decide if the accused is guilty or innocent, and which punishment should be carried against the accused together with judges in cases where the accused is guilty. This system was introduced in 2009 for the purpose of promoting the citizens’ understanding of and enhancing trust in the judicial system by involving lay judges appointed from among the citizens in criminal procedures.
Cases Subject to Lay Judge Trials
Cases subject to lay judge trials include cases involving offences punishable with the death penalty or life imprisonment or life imprisonment without work, and cases involving offences that have caused a victim to die by intentional criminal acts as a part of cases to be handled by a panel consisting of judges in law.
Concretely speaking, they are serious crimes such as homicide, robbery causing death or injury, injury causing death, arson of inhabited buildings, and kidnapping for ransom.
However, when there are circumstances that the lay judges cannot perform their duties as the life, body or property of the lay judges or their family members could be harmed, cases are handled by a panel consisting of judges.
Organization of the Panels
In principle, a panel consists of three judges and six lay judges, and one of the judges is the presiding judge. However, in cases where it is found in the arrangement of issues and evidence under the pretrial conference procedure that no dispute on the charged facts exists and which are found suitable, taking the content of said cases and other circumstances into consideration, the court may render a ruling to the effect that the panel consisting of one judge and four lay judges is organized to conduct proceedings and render judicial decisions.
Just in case a lay judge cannot participate due to poor health, the court may arrange the alternate lay judge if necessary.
A lay judge is appointed from among persons having the right to vote on the members of the House of Representatives. Any person who has been punished with imprisonment without work or a heavier penalty, congressional representatives, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges cannot be the lay judge. Victims of the case concerned and any person who might make unfair verdict cannot be the lay judge of the case neither. Any person who has unavoidable reasons may file a motion for refusal to be appointed as a lay judge.
Deliberations and Verdicts
While the lay judges perform fact finding, application of laws, and sentencing with the judges, the presiding judge gives necessary explanations to the lay judges in careful manner as they are the citizens. To make a deliberation fulfilling, the presiding judge provides for enough opportunities to have the lay judges’ say and explains carefully about matters which need special knowledge such as interpretation of law. And the decision with the lay judges and the member judges is made by the majority of opinions of the number of persons constituting the panel with verdict.
Although in principle the verdict is carried out by the simple majority, the verdict with the majority of only lay judges cannot make any decisions against the accused as required cooperation between the judges and lay judges. For example, when three judges found the accused innocent but one of the lay judges voted for innocence and other five for guilty, the court cannot convict the accused although the accused would be convicted according to the simple majority system.
Difference between Lay Judge Trials and Ordinary Trials (Bench Trials)
In a traditional trial composed of only judges, judges read a lot of evidence which was submitted by public prosecutors and counsels considering that these evidences were relevant to the case concerned, analyze and examine them in detail by themselves, and work to reveal the case. However, it is impossible to demand the lay judges to perform the same works as the professional judges’.
Premised on the relevance of the case and protection of the rights of the accused, the lay judge trial has to enable the lay judges to understand the contents of the case, form their conclusion, and state their opinions, as well as reduce their burden as much as possible. Thus, in cases involving the lay judge trial, the institutional design comes with a twist to reduce burdens on the lay judges as much as possible. For example, the lay judge trial necessarily takes the pretrial conference procedure to arrange issues and evidence in advance among a public prosecutor, counsel, and court. Under the pretrial conference procedure, the public prosecutor, counsel, and court arrange issues and evidence in advance so that they make elaborate preparation to conduct focused proceedings during the trial.
Therefore, this pretrial conference procedure makes it possible to open a court on consecutive days, conduct proceedings intensively, and designed and fulfilling enough for the lay judges to understand.
As the pretrial conference procedure renders a ruling on adoption of evidence, it is possible to render a ruling on the proceedings which do not involve the lay judges at this stage.
The Importance of Lawyer in Lay Judge Trial
In the lay judge trial, ordinary persons participate in the trial proceedings as the lay judges. However, as the court system is unfamiliar to the public, it is said that it is necessary to explain more carefully than in an ordinary trial in order for the lay judges to fully understand counsels’ assertions.
The lay judge trial also requires careful preparation for intensive hearings on consecutive days. Public prosecutor and counsel as the parties need to carefully collect evidence to request considering that the lay judges may understand the contents of the hearings and make their conclusions.
Lawyer needs to prepare for trial activities in trial requesting to disclose evidence and comprehending the issues. It is necessary to organize the construction of the assertions after scrutinizing a flood of documents before the trial is held and finding out the advantageous evidences.
High defense technics are required to defend fully in the lay judge trial. AICHI Criminal Cases Law Firm deals with criminal and juvenile cases. Based on rich experience in criminal cases, we can give assistance to the cases involving the lay judge trial.