Ostensibly, the inclusion of regular citizens into the legal process should curb the judiciary's notorious penchant for issuing peculiar, illogical and even extra-constitutional judgments. It is hoped that the common sense of common citizens will mete out justice more effectively and regularly than capricious and cautious judges whose main concern is not the application of the law but avoiding handing down any decison that could harm the his or her chances at receiving a full pension.
At least, that seems to be the idea behind the lay judge system.
However, sitting by the warmth of a wood stove in the mountains on Saturday, under a single bare lightbulb, my toes kicking up little clouds of ash, I got to hear a rather different view of why the lay judge system will be a boon to society.
"When the new saiban'in system comes in, we'll finally get to do something about drunk and reckless drivers. If you get behind the wheel and you swerve around and strike someone and kill them....well, I'm sorry..that deserves the death penalty. You have taken another's life through your irresponsible behavior, why should you be allowed to live? Death is what you deserve. Judges have been too lenient, letting these killers off all the time with light sentences. The lay judges will see to it that justice is done."My, my...a not very civilized or genteel understanding of the problems affecting justice in this country, I am afraid.
And one, I think, that far more citizens share than the legal reformers have wanted to admit.