[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 141 / Dec. 15 .2007 ]
            THE SAIBAN-IN (Lay Judge) SYSTEM
          by MARUTA Takashi, Heibonsha Shinsho
          by "OPEN COURT SYSTEM" Study Group, Shuwa System
by NISHINO Kiichi, Kodansha Gendai Shinsho
I got interested in the Court System issues as a result of my activities concerning Capital Punishment. In other words, one of the reasons for that is because the target of the Saiban-in system are heavy criminal offenses for which death penalties are imposed. But, in fact, more than that the main reason is that the Saiban-in system calls us, citizens, to question how to confront court sentences and how to relate to them.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the main reason to hold on death penalty is because "the sentiments of the Japanese people support capital punishment." But, in reality, people do not positively support capital punishment instead they feel that the decisions of the courts are not related at all with them. Actual Japanese society sees the information of crime as if it is watching a drama, where one feels compassion with the victims and hates the criminals, shouting "death" as wanting to lynch them. The Saiban-in system questions, basically, us that easily take an attitude of spectators.
We are almost two years now before the Saiban-in system makes a start in 2009. But, frankly speaking, I am not confident about its knowledge. Trying to know something about it I got hold of 3 books on the matter.
Firstly, the book: A READER ON THE SAIBAN-IN SYSTEM presents a full picture on the system. The author, the Study Group on the "Open Court System" consists of a group of jurist journalists. The book is a pocket-size Guide Book for Beginners that offers an easy reading on the following items: 1. Juridical Reform 2. The flux of Criminal Court 3. The structure of the Courthouse and the Courtroom 4. Citizens' participation in Courts around the world.
6. Organization of the Saiban-in system and its tasks. The last chapter deals with the district courts and the probabilities they have to be nominated Saiban-in (for instance, Otsu stands on top of the list with 0.28%~0.56% of probabilities and Saga at the bottom with 0.05%~0.10% of probabilities). Although the data are from the year 2004 it is useful.

The second book: THE SAIBAN-IN SYSTEM by Heibonsha Shinsho (2004) \720 compares the Saiban-in system with the Jury System (the members are only citizens without any judge) and the Lay Judge System (citizens and judge together) and explains the behind the scenes details on how the Saiban-in system was introduced. Its author, MARUTA Takashi, is a law scholar that taught at a Law School in the USA.
He stresses that, recognizing the lack of enough preparation regarding the Saiban-in system, citizens should endeavor to get positively involved in the reform of the Saiban-in system, by showing interest in court decisions and in changing them to fit the needs of all citizens.

The third book is THE NATURE OF THE SAIBAN-IN SYSTEM, by Kodansha Gendai Shinsho (2007) \720. The title of this book hints at a criticism of the Saiban-in system. Its author, NISHINO Kiichi is a law scholar that had, formerly, been a judge. Since he is well acquainted with the administrative work of the courts, his writing on criticizing the Saiban-in system gives a realistic flavor. On the other hand, he asserts that since criminal cases are complicated and difficult they should be handled by specialists (judges) and thus amateurs should not meddle in. I do not feel like agreeing with this basic stand. In fact, the expression "amateurs" appears often in the book and I felt unpleasant about it. We cannot forget that the view to despise citizens is directly connected to the corruption of the juridical system.

In any event, the Saiban-in system will start after 2 years from now. We are going to participate in the Saiban-in system, in a realistic way and not as watching a drama, to pass judgment on people. That will test our human consciences and awareness of the law, our creativity concerning others. Thus, we have to think of all kinds of problems in the light of the law, not as something related to third persons, but as something concerning ourselves. This could lead us to find a meaning in the introduction of the Saiban-in system. Nishino asserts that "the participation of amateurs will cause the collapse of the criminal courts." Will this be true or not is up to ourselves.

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

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