裁判員判決 検証の積み重ねが欠かせない

Lay judge system should be monitored, improved
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 7, 2009)
裁判員判決 検証の積み重ねが欠かせない(8月7日付・読売社説)

The nation's first lay judge trial has ended. Many more trials in which ordinary citizens participate as lay judges in criminal cases are expected to follow across the country.

It is vital that people in the judicial world look for any shortcomings or problems in lay judge trials, including the one that just ended Thursday, and rectify them so the lay judge system can be improved.

The first lay judge trial dealt with a murder that took place on a Tokyo street in May. A 72-year-old man had been accused of stabbing to death his 66-year-old female neighbor with a survival knife.

The Tokyo District Court courtroom where the trial was conducted looked completely different to courtrooms in the past. Three professional judges in robes were flanked by six lay judges wearing their everyday clothes.

Prosecutors and lawyers showed images on monitors and paraphrased hard-to-comprehend technical terms with plain language.

As one example, a prosecutor explained that a "defensive wound"--which was found on the woman's body--is an injury sustained when a victim tries to use their hand, arm or other body part to block an assault by an assailant with a sharp weapon.

We welcome such changes because they will help the general public more easily understand what is discussed during trials.


Heavy burdens

The trial focused on determining the punishment for the defendant, who had admitted to killing the woman. The crux of the decision centered on to what degree the defendant had intended to kill the woman.

One lay judge asked the defendant why he decided to go and fetch a knife while he was quarreling with the victim. Such questions indicated the lay judges' willingness to determine for themselves the degree of the defendant's intent to commit murder.

While prosecutors demanded a 16-year term of imprisonment, the court sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison, acknowledging that he stabbed the woman with a strong intent despite being aware that doing so would result in her death. The court handed down a ruling in line with the argument put forward by prosecutors.

During the four-day trial, a female lay judge averted her eyes when images of the victim's body were shown on a monitor. Another female judge was unable to appear in court on the third day because she was feeling unwell due to a cold. She was replaced with a male "supplementary" lay judge.

The daily trial undoubtedly placed a heavy strain on lay judges. In cases when lay judges are asked to make even tougher decisions, such as choosing between the death penalty or an indefinite prison term, they likely will bear an even heavier burden.

In this regard, the Supreme Court must do everything it can to take care of the lay judges' mental condition, such as ensuring the smooth operation of the counseling service counter that has been set up to give advice to lay judges.


Weighty responsibility

Another issue that needs careful consideration is how to select lay judges.

In the Tokyo District Court trial, the six lay judges randomly chosen by the court turned out to be five women and one man. But for trials on cases involving sex offenses, we wonder whether the age and gender balance of the lay judges could subtly affect rulings.

After the ruling Thursday, the six lay judges and a supplementary citizen judge attended a press conference. "I sincerely felt the heavy responsibility I bore in judging a person," one said.

This comment should be kept in mind, given that any of us could be asked to serve as a lay judge any time soon.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 7, 2009)
(2009年8月7日01時15分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-08-07 08:27 | 英字新聞

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