Praise for new Japanese jury system

Little marks the case out except its almost banal brutality: Two Tokyo pensioners argued for months before a final confrontation ended in the death of 66-year-old Mun Chun Ja after her 72-year-old neighbour, Katsuyoshi Fujii, plunged a knife into her back. That deadly squabble, however, became part of a radical legal experiment that has held Japan in thrall all week.



Fujii admitted the charge but claims he intended to threaten, not kill – and for the first time in the nation's judicial history, ordinary people decided how he should be punished.

Six citizen judges joined three professionals today in handing down a 15-year jail term to Fujji in the Tokyo District Court. The verdict was the climax of five years' preparation and sometimes tortuous discussion on the introduction of the nation's first lay judge system. The judges declared it a success, defying its many critics.

"It was a precious and worthwhile experience," one told a press conference today. Despite worries that the judges, chosen at random on Monday, would struggle to follow complex testimony or be intimidated by the court setting, they have earned universal praise for what the press is calling a skillful court performance.

All six asked questions through the three-day hearings, probing the extent of Fujii's premeditation. Why had he taken a survival knife if he merely intended to intimidate the victim? Why didn't he call an ambulance after the stabbing? In the end, the lay judges refused to believe that Fujii had simply snapped. "That probably accounts for the heavy sentence," said lawyer Tsutomu Hotta, who was watching the case.

Japan's old trial-by-jury system was abolished in 1943 as the country slipped deeper into military fascism. Most doubted it would ever return. Surveys suggest that over 80 per cent of the population opposes the new judicial experiment, and one in four won't serve if called as lay judges, despite the threat of penalties. Even Japan's justice minister said two years ago that the new system would probably fail.

Such was the level of concern when the 2004 law authorising the experiment was passed, that the legal establishment and courts demanded five years to prepare. Pundits speculated that ordinary people would baulk at the lifetime secrecy clause or at sending people to the gallows in murder cases. An overhaul of Japan's stuffy courts was ordered.

Lawyers were instructed to sit up, stop mumbling and use slides to help explain their arguments. The trial was shortened to minimise inconvenience to working citizens. Fujii had his cuffs and restraints removed to avoid biasing the judges in a system that declares over 90 per cent of defendants guilty. Such is the interest in the trial that state broadcaster NHK covered the entire four-day proceedings.

Today's verdict inaugurates a system that is expected to try 3,000 mostly serious criminal cases a year, but resistance is likely to continue. A recent survey found just one per cent of the population feels confident about judging someone. Opening day in the Fujii case was disrupted when a protestor shouted from the public gallery, warning people not to take part. For all its faults, however, lay-judges appear to be here to stay. "This has got to be an improvement on what we have now," says lawyer and reformer Takashi Takano. "It couldn't be much worse."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor