Comment on the 10th Anniversary of the Implementation of the Saiban-in (Lay Judge) System
Ten years have passed since the implementation of the Saiban-in (Lay Judge) System. In that time, over 10,000 Saiban-in trials have been held, and more than 90,000 citizens have served as Saiban-in or complementary Saiban-in. On behalf of the JFBA, I would like to convey our deepest respect to the invaluable contributions made by judges, prosecutors, attorneys, related parties and institutions in charge, and especially the many citizens who have participated in the juridical process.
The Saiban-in System was introduced as a key measure to reform the juridical system for the purpose of “establishing reinforced juridical bases for the citizens backed up by subjective participation of the citizens.” The introduction of this system has encouraged the dramatic transformation of trials, from the traditional style of putting too much weight on the confession statements of the accused, into the trials where the facts are determined by “seeing, listening, and understanding in the court.” It also helped move the juridical process closer to the direct and verbal principles, which are the original philosophies of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We consider that the Saiban-in System should be evaluated highly since the sense of the general public, in addition to healthy social common sense, supports the finding of facts and determination of appropriate punishment, whereby revitalizes criminal trials which were said to be hopeless in the past. We expect that this achievement will spread throughout the whole criminal justice system.
On the other hand, several issues have been identified during the implementation of the system over the past ten years. One of them is that more than 60% of the citizens declined to serve as Saiban-in. In order to make a judge panel consisting of citizens with various and diverse backgrounds, we have to take action urgently to build various social bases and enhance support systems so that citizens will be more willing to participate in the trials as Saiban-in. More than 95% of the citizens who served as Saiban-in evaluated the experience of Saiban-in as being “worthwhile.” We need to widely disseminate this information to the public.
One of the basic philosophies behind the reform of the juridical system was that each citizen should depart from a mindset of an objective sense of governance in favor of one of subjective governance. If this philosophy is reflected to the Saiban-in System, we are obliged to answer to the question whether Saiban-in can give their opinions subjectively in deliberation, whether their viewpoints are reflected in the decision, and whether the judges and Saiban-in can discuss the case on equal footing. We are of the opinion that we should verify the effectiveness of the deliberation by limiting the objects of confidentiality of Saiban-in, and thus making it possible to hear more from Saiban-in to review these issues.
Additionally, we will continue to reform the system so that citizens can participate in the trials more subjectively. For example, the expansion of the subject cases using the Saiban-in System from the current level of 1.7%, the increase of the ratio of Saiban-in in proportion to judges in the panel, and the isolation of the presiding person of the pretrial conference procedure from the court in order to eliminate the information gap between judges and Saiban-in, in addition to other measures.
We attorneys will make continuous efforts to enhance and expand the Saiban-in System further, and, at the same time, to improve our skill of defense to protect the defendants’ rights in Saiban-in trials. We would very much appreciate your further understanding and cooperation on this matter.
May 21, 2019
Japan Federation of Bar Associations