Japan's Pre-War Jury Trials As Seen By the Journalists of Hōritsu Shinbun (Legal News)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 59
Oral Presentation
Anna DOBROVOLSKAIA , College of Law, National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taipei, Taiwan
In May 2009, the Act Concerning Participation of Lay Judges in Criminal Trials (“Lay Judge Act”) was enforced in Japan. This piece of legislation established a new mixed-court jury (saiban’in) system where the verdict and sentencing in major crimes are decided by a panel comprising three professional judges and six laypersons.

The introduction of the saiban’in system is not the first experimentation with citizen participation in the criminal justice system in Japan. The twelve-layperson jury system functioned in early Shōwa Japan between 1928 and 1943.

Just like the first saiban’in trials in contemporary Japan, the first jury trials in the pre-war period attracted a significant amount of attention from the general public, academics, and journalists.

This paper describes and analyzes the journalistic accounts of the first cases tried by jury in pre-war Japan that appeared in the Hōritsu Shinbun (Legal News). The Hōritsu Shinbun articles not only contain the objective description of the jury trial proceedings and the strategies of the defense and prosecution, but also include a subjective element--the personal impressions of their authors. The observations of the authors of the articles provide readers with important insights into how the jury system was perceived by the general public at the time.

Highlighting these insights is the first objective of this paper. Outlining the features of Japan’s pre-war jury system is another. Placing the details of the functioning of the saiban’in system in contemporary Japan into a historical context is the third goal.