A new article has come out in the Illinois Law Review that provides a more comprehensive look at the Japanese jury system, which is still relatively new. The new Japanese “saiban-in” or “lay assessor” system has many interesting features:
- It mixes jurors and judges.
- It requires a only a majority, which should include both judges and jurors (except in a not guilty verdict).
- Post-trail juror discussions of the case (e.g., with the media) are subject to fines.
- The lay assessor system only applies to high-stakes trials at this point, so it’s only used in a small percentage of cases.
This system was created for two purposes–to inspire more lay participation in public life generally (which is the main theme of this blog and the Jury & Democracy Project more generally) and to avoid the risk of wrongful conviction. The conviction rate in Japanese trials exceeds 99%. Apparently, it still does even with the new system. Pertinent to this point is the following excerpt from the Illinois Law Review article:
The saiban-in system thus far has had little effect on the influence of
the prosecutorial system on the judicial process and Japan’s high conviction
rate, a fact which some might find disappointing given the jury’s traditional
role.263 As the Japanese judiciary expands the use of the saibanin
system into more cases where the culpability of the defendant is seriously
disputed, some changes in Japan’s notoriously dominant prosecutorial
system and high conviction rate may emerge.264 Given Japan’s high
conviction rate in the past, however, such a result seems relatively implausible
in the near future.265 Nevertheless, the fact that the saiban-in
system may not lead to broader prosecutorial reform does not mean that
the system will not result in effective lay participation. The system has
already allowed Japanese citizens to take an active role in the criminal
judicial process through witness questioning and determination of sentence,
and this role is likely to expand and become more effective as Japanese
citizens become further acquainted with the saiban-in system and
lay judicial participation.