Japan's new jury system

Japan has inexplicably decided to experiment with copying one of the worst aspects of the American legal system: juries.

As reported in the NYT earlier this month, the new system, to be introduced in 2009, involves citizens called “saiban-in” (“lay assessors”) who will sit on panels together with judges on the more serious cases.

According to the article, “a jury is one of the most important protections of a democracy.” Really? A random group of biased, cherrypicked, uneducated people off the street are going to decide on matters of life and death? For every high-profile case where the jury obviously got it wrong, how many hundreds or thousands do we never hear of?

The Supreme Court recently ruled that it was OK for relatives of a murder victim to sit in court with big buttons featuring the face of the deceased, and that this did not unduly influence the jury. (Carey vs. Musladin.) Maybe or maybe not. But this case raises the deeper issue of how we can possibly know what does or does not influence a jury. Do they really get “innocent until proven guilty”, or even “beyond a reasonable doubt”? I doubt it.

The Founders were quite certain that the jury system was important. After all, they wrote it into the Bill of Rights not once, not twice, but three times. But let’s remember: they were reacting to very particular abuses of the judicial system under colonial English rule. Juries were the only way to absolutely prevent such misuse of government power. And recall, the jurors back then were landed and educated.

There’s no need for a jury system in America today. We call up people with no expertise whatsoever and waste their time to help us condemn one of our underclass to prison for a decade for possessing a rock of cocaine.

There are those who say juries form a key part of the democratic system. The author of the NYT article goes so far as to say “if Japan’s effort to introduce a jury system fails, democracy movements elsewhere in Asia will suffer a serious setback.” But representational democracy and the jury system are similar only in the superficial sense that they involve citizen participation.

The article goes on to say that “it’s hard to imagine how Americans could fulfill their role as democracy advocates any better than by helping the Japanese become jurors.” Well, I don’t think the Japanese need any lessons from us in democracy. If we really wanted to help them become more democratic, why not push for a nationwide referendum on the US troops in Okinawa and elsehwere in Japan, then insist that the two governments actually abide by the results?

4 Responses to “Japan's new jury system”

  1. Claire Bennion Says:

    Interestingly, Utah is currently in the process of “dumbing down” its stock jury instructions by removing legal terms which might “confuse” a jury. For example, the phrase “proximate cause,” an important concept in assessing fault in tort cases, has been eliminated, because, say the drafters of the new instructions, juries confuse it with “approximate” and “proximity.” It’s ironic that our “solution” to jurors who can’t understand legal principles is an attempt to eliminate technical legal terms with specific meanings, rather than to eliminate the ignorant jurors. My students are always quite surprised to learn how often judges grant “Motions for Judgment Nothwithstanding the Verdict” because jurors “got it wrong.” They ask, as they should, why then we even have juries at all.

  2. Dr. D. Says:

    I just found this blog and am very impressed. I am deeply interested in neurtheology and will be reading through all of your posts over the next days I imagine. I help maintain a neuroscience news website (www.neurosciencenews.com) and a clinical psychology website (www.clinicallypsyched.com), and would love it if you would join up to our new forums. I also would love to use some of your links on the websites if you wouldn’t mind. If so, I would also like to post any new articles you write regarding neurotheology and neuroscience to the site. Thanks for sharing the great information and good luck with everything.

    – Dr. D.

  3. Bruno Says:

    But don’t you think it has this small advantage to bring plurality of views and arguments?

    I agree with you, some people are well undereducated to take up such a crucial role—I sometimes think that some people are so dumb they shouldn’t be allowed to vote, actually (and I’m French, so I had a lot to think about lately ;-)…).

    But in the end, aren’t they the representatives of the people, in the name of whom justice is given? I don’t know how it goes in the US, perhaps you could shed some light on this, but in the French legal system, all judgements begin with “In the name of the French people”, etc.

    And they might be dumb, but… Well, smart people are a minority.

  4. syed rizwan manzoor Says:

    hello sir
    i want full english writting,reading,spoken english i m very poor in english so sir please help give me this books free in have not money to pay and go to any center

    i will be pay for you
    thankyou sir

Leave a Reply