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Monday, July 16, 2007

Japan Prepares for Jury Trials

From NYTimes.com: Japan is preparing to adopt a jury-style system in its courts in 2009, the most significant change in its criminal justice system since the postwar American occupation. But for it to work, the Japanese must first overcome some deep-rooted cultural obstacles: a reluctance to express opinions in public, to argue with one another and to question authority.

To win over a skeptical public, Japan’s courts have held some 500 mock trials across the country, including six here in Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Still, polls show that 80 percent are dreading the change and do not want to serve as jurors, a reluctance that was on display among the mock jurors here.

They preferred directing questions to the judges. They never engaged one another in discussion. Their opinions had to be extracted by the judges and were often hedged by the Japanese language’s rich ambiguity. When a silence stretched out and a judge prepared to call upon a juror, the room tensed up as if the jurors were students who had not done the reading.

“I think there is also the matter of how much he has repented,” one of the judges said. “Has he genuinely, deeply repented, or has the defendant repented in his own way? What’s the degree? I mean, some could even say that he hasn’t repented at all.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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