CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wilson on Japan's Lay Judge System

Wilson matthewMatthew J. Wilson (University of Wyoming - College of Law) has posted Japan’s Lay Judge System: Expectations, Accomplishments, Shortfalls, and Possible Expansion on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Japan’s efforts over the past decade to integrate citizens into its criminal justice system represent one of the most fascinating modern experiments in judicial reform. In 2009, when Japan formally reintroduced lay participation into criminal trials after a six decade hiatus through its or “saiban-in seido” or lay judge system, the domestic stakeholders affected by this change greeted the new quasi-jury system with mixed messages. Political reformers, bureaucrats, many attorneys, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (“JFBA”), and scholars were excited and encouraged about the potential of the new system. Conversely, the majority of Japanese citizens, the courts, the media, and others were much more critical. These skeptics contended that Japan’s reforms and sizeable investment in citizen participation would be futile based on cultural traditions and institutional impediments.

At the same time, there was much interest in the judicial reforms and new lay judge system outside of Japan. Countries across Asia and around the world watched the move towards greater democratic participation in the judicial system with much anticipation. Going forward, the world will continue to study the country’s involvement of average citizens in the judicial decision-making process. 

As the lay judge system has reached its fifth anniversary of operation, now is an excellent time to scrutinize its accomplishments and shortfalls. This paper will explain how Japan has accomplished, at least in part, the original goals underlying the lay judge system, including making the justice system “easier to use, easier to understand, and more reliable.” It will also examine how Japan’s new lay judge system has increased citizen interest in the judicial process and largely enhanced citizens’ trust in the legal system. Additionally, this paper will explore the challenges facing the system and discuss whether additional steps might be taken to more fully advance these goals, including the expansion of citizen participation into the civil justice realm.

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