Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Victim Participation System" and Mock Trials

"The Supreme Court has decided to launch mock trials with participation from people posing as crime victims ahead of the introduction of the citizen (lay) judge system in Japan next year.

"The trials will be held in line with the implementation of another system starting this year, in which victims will take part in trials.

"Both the lay judge system and the victim participation system are pillars of judicial reform in Japan, but the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and some victim support groups have expressed fears that victims' opinions may negatively affect the ability of lay judges to make appropriate decisions. The Supreme Court aims to eliminate such fears through the mock trials.

"The decision to implement the victim participation system was the result of past comments from crime victims that they had been left out of criminal trials. Under the new system, which will be used in the trial of serious crimes such as murder, victims and bereaved family members will sit next to public prosecutors and will be able to directly question defendants and witnesses, and state their opinions on sentencing.

"The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has expressed reservations about the system.

""There is a possibility that lay judges -- who are ordinary citizens -- will be strongly affected by the opinions of the victims, hindering calm acknowledgement of the facts and fair sentencing," a federation representative said.

"One scheduled mock trial will depict a male defendant who falls asleep while drink driving and crashes into an oncoming car, killing the other driver. It will be based on an actual incident, and the theme will be the sentencing when the defendant has admitted to the crime.

"Lawyers active in supporting victims will take part, playing the part of bereaved family members, and it will be examined whether lay judges are strongly affected by questions from bereaved families who take a strong line. The extent to which opinions about sentencing can be reflected will also be examined, along with consideration of whether opinions about sentencing become divided.

"The mock trials were requested at various levels of the court by Society for Victims and the Judiciary representative Tadaari Katayama, who argued that it would be easy for the weight of sentences to change based on victims' behavior in court.

"Mock trials will be held at the Chiba District Court in late May, the Maebashi District Court in June, and the Tokyo District Court in July, amongst others."

By Mainichi Shimbun (4/29/2008), Link to article (last visited 4/29/2008)

No comments: