Japan Times: New “lay judge” court system sentences first NJ


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Hi Blog.  Here’s an event worthy of mention on Debito.org:  Japan’s “Lay Judge” system (meaning jurors, kinda — see more here) pass their first ruling on an NJ defendant.

I am in support of jury systems (I’ve seen firsthand what aloof and removed judges can do even in the most commonsensical court cases), and they seem to have sped up the process for criminal cases (for better or worse).  It has also resulted, it seems according to the article below, in better court interpretation (one big problem with Japanese criminal procedure — there is no certification procedure for quality control).  Comments?  Arudou Debito in Tokyo


Lay judges hand prison term to first foreigner (Excerpt)
Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009


SAITAMA (Kyodo) The first foreign defendant to be tried in a lay judge trial was sentenced Friday to five years in prison at the Saitama District Court for two counts of robbery resulting in injury.

The case involving the 20-year-old Filipino man was also the first in which interpreters were used in a lay judge trial.

The defendant, who cannot be named as he was a minor when he committed the crimes, was charged with assaulting two people, along with two other juvenile accomplices, on streets in Saitama Prefecture last December and taking a total of ¥37,000 in cash and other items in the two assaults…

The lay judge system, which debuted in May, requires courtroom participants to make their arguments orally so trials are easier for people who are not legal professionals to follow, which in turn means more work for the interpreters in cases involving foreign nationals.

Much of the focus in the latest case was on whether the two Tagalog interpreters could accurately convey the tone of the remarks and how their interpretation might affect the decisions of the lay judges.

As of April, there were some 4,000 courtroom interpreters covering 58 languages.
Full article at



6 comments on “Japan Times: New “lay judge” court system sentences first NJ

  • he was a minor when he commited the crimes, so i wonder why he was not given a suspended sentence like most japanese get? i guess because hes a NJ, thats why.

  • In what is probably more of an indictment of the legal system in general and less a commentary on race, the theft of 37,000 yen nets more jail time than 320 million yen. I guess Sahashi didn’t physically assault anyone so his crime isn’t considered as bad?

    — Precisely. White-collar crime is probably punished less in most judicial systems. Assault somebody on top of that and it falls under “gokuaku hanzai”, with harsher penalties.

  • The law says the MINIMUM jail term for robbery resulting in injury is 6 years.

    “Penal Code
    Article 240 When a person who has committed the crime of robbery causes another to suffer injury at the scene of the robbery, the person shall be punished by imprisonment with work for life or for a definite term of not less than 6 years, and in the case of causing death, the death penalty or imprisonment with work for life shall be imposed.”

    His punishment of 5 years in prison, after taking a discount as a minor, is actually lenient.

    Mainichi reports as follows.

    “At the argument on (September) 10th, the prosecutor pointed out facts against the defendant, that the defendant (with 2 other perpetrators) repeatedly brutalized the victim 3 on 1, that he committed robbery twice in that week, and that he was on probation after temporarily released from juvenile prison. The prosecutor also pointed out the facts for the defendant, that he expressed remorse for his crime and he was a minor when the crime took place.”

    Suspended sentence is possible only if the jail term is 3 years or less, and if the convicted did not commit crime while on probation.

  • Actually, no. The new Japanese lay judge system is seriously flawed. Media coverage, especially by Japanese media but also foreign media, has been way too positive.

    Take, for example, the 2200 persons who queued up for one of the 58 seats for the public at the first trial in Tokyo. Many of these who queued up where freeters and arbeiters – because the tickets were handed out by lottery and they could sell them to people seriously interested! Has not been reported in any major media outlet.

    Japanese are very reluctant to participate, with over 80% saying that they do not want to become a judge themselves. The number of jurors coming to court before being assigned has been dropping steadily in the last weeks. At the first trial in Tokyo, only 49 out of 100 had to report (the others filed complaints or refused service), out of which 47 actually came. For the latest cases, the numbers have been even lower, with a low hit in a court in Western Japan where judges had to select jurors from less than 30 people.

    The lack of discussion about the new system is very bad.

    — You are confusing issues. The 2200 people queueing up for the gallery have nothing to do with the jury system. That has existed for years.

  • I’m not confusing issues at all. The 2200 people queueing up for the first trial was a rarity, numbers have been much lower for trials after that. The queueing is just one example of how reporting of the lay judge trials is flawed. Japanese press is good in reporting numbers but they fail to explain reasons why things happen.


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