Friday, November 28, 2008

You Cannot Always Get What You Wanted

Today, the first batch of individuals will be notified of their selection to serve as lay judges (saiban'in) in the revamped legal criminal court system. According to the plan, the lay judges will start hearing their first cases on May 21 of next year.

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.

5 comments:

brianakira said...

Re: "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."

- That's assuming that the average Japanese citizen is reasonable and logical.

[Bwaaahahahaha...!]

Janne Morén said...

Do the lay judges decide on sentencing and not only on the matter of culpability? If so, that is a rather large difference from most other jury systems.

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

I took the views expressed to mean that prosecutors would be able to win convictions on much more severe charges than they have been able to secure until now.

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

The post title intrigues me. Are you suggesting, a la Jagger, that this might be what Japan needs? Or have I completely missed the reference?

MTC said...

Chris -

Not exactly.

I do believe that someone, somehow has to put pressure on judges to render judgments in accordance with the written law and evidence presented...and to do so with greater dispatch. A saiban'in-like system--which in the abstract should inject common sense notions of justice and fairness into the process--could have such an effect.

The problem is that in addition to rendering, after delays of months and years, horrible verdicts, judges also have tended to issue inconsistent and unbalanced sentences.

My sense is that the public--through their agents the saiban'in--will seek an increase the severity of the punishments issued, not improve the courtroom procedure and the administration of justice.