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Comment on the 1st Anniversary of the Saiban-in System


One year has passed since the implementation of the Saiban-in (lay judge) Act (Act on Criminal Trials Examined under Lay Judge System).


The citizens chosen to be Saiban-in have dealt with the cases presented in a serious manner and the operation of the system has been relatively smooth. The Saiban-in have expressed a wide range of opinions and have demonstrated their interest in matters ranging from the treatment of inmates to the real-life situation of the rehabilitation system and their decisions have reflected the sober nature of their deliberations in determining sentences. In news conferences and on other occasions, many of those who participated in trials as Saiban-in stated in their own words how diligently they had dealt with the cases and expressed their feelings of achievement that they had successfully completed their duty. They also gave positive responses when questioned about the experience and meaning of their participation in the justice system.


According to a survey result released by the Supreme Court, over 95% of Saiban-in gave positive responses and stated that participating in trials as Saiban-in had been a “good experience.” Over 70% of respondents answered that they had easily been able to follow and understand the contents of trials, which indicates that the aim of achieving court trials understandable “by eyes and ears” has been realized and that criminal trials is changing.


In most of the cases tried under the Saiban-in system thus far, there has been no dispute over the facts constituting the offense charged. However, from this time forward, Saiban-in are going to hear cases in which the facts or capacity for liability will be in dispute, in addition to serious cases in which public prosecutors will demand the death penalty. In order to ensure that the right of defendants to a fair defense is protected in Saiban-in trials holding hearings over consecutive days, we should examine with interest whether or not necessary evidence is disclosed by public prosecutors during pretrial conference procedures, whether a sufficient period of time is provided for defendants to prepare their defense, and whether trial schedules are appropriate. Recently, it was reported that the cases to be examined by Saiban-in trials are subject to long waiting periods prior to the hearing. In this regard, it should also be verified whether pretrial conference procedures are taking more time than necessary, taking into account that a sufficient period of time must be secured for preparation of a defense.


Prior to the implementation of the Saiban-in Act, the JFBA had provided various training programs to its members in order to develop their advocacy skills in preparation for the introduction of Saiban-in trials, including demonstration programs to learn trial advocacy and practical programs to learn how to establish advocacy strategies. We were of the opinion that these training programs had been successful in achieving a certain level of results. However, according to the Supreme Court's survey, the number of Saiban-in responding that the arguments of attorneys in courts were easy to understand was lower than for those who gave positive responses regarding the understandability public prosecutors’ arguments.


The JFBA takes the results of this survey seriously and is aiming to further enhance its training programs and provide more opportunities to share advocacy experiences in order to improve the advocacy skills and quality of its members.


In addition, the JFBA will strive to make the system easier for citizens to participate in and seek to alleviate the confidentiality obligation imposed on Saiban-in as well as addressing further issues such as the introduction of visual recording for the entire interrogation process in order to improve the criminal procedures under which the rights of suspects and defendants are sufficiently guaranteed.


May 21, 2010
Kenji Utsunomiya
Japan Federation of Bar Associations


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