Japan, the jury

After a lapse of 60 years, Japan is planning to bring back a jury system. But a huge effort will be required to convince ordinary Japanese about its advantages, says Robert Precht, co-director of the Juries and Democracy Programme at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Centre at the University of Montana.

The return to citizen participation represents a bold commitment to have ordinary Japanese take greater responsibility in running the country, says Precht. But surveys show that they may not be ready:

  • The prospect of jury service intimidates many Japanese; polls show 70 per cent of them don't want to be on them.

  • Japanese are much more likely to fear retaliation from defendants than American jurors are.

  • They also have far less confidence than Americans do in their ability to judge fairly.

    What's more, Japan's democratic experiment will be closely watched by the rest of Asia. If Japan's effort to introduce a jury system fails, democracy movements in South Korea, Taiwan and China, among others, will suffer a serious setback.

    However, to guard against potential setbacks, Americans can play an important role in alleviating many of the fears associated with switching to a new legal system, says Precht. For example:

  • They can reassure the Japanese that jury service is both feasible and valuable; while few Americans look forward to jury service and many are inconvenienced by it, the majority of Americans who do serve on juries report having positive experiences.

  • The United States and Japanese governments could organise an exchange programme in which Americans can visit Japan and share their jury experiences and Japanese can also visit American courthouses and talk with American jurors.

    Source: Robert E. Precht, Japan, the Jury, New York Times, December 1, 2006.

    For text (subscription required): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/01/opinion/01precht.html

    For more on International Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=26

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 12 December 2006
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