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Jury duty becomes a citizen service next year

Date Posted: 2008-12-05

May 21st is a red letter day on the Japanese judicial system calendar, the day when the country institutes a system of trial by jury.

Until now, trials have been conducted similarly to those in western countries, but with a single judge—not a jury—making the ruling on guilt or innocence. The High Court of Justice is ready to implement the new system, and has already sent the first notifications to jury candidates across the country.

The High Court of Justice says one out of every 2.2 adult citizens will receive a letter to serve on a jury next year. The November 28th notices were sent to 295,027 people chosen randomly. In Okinawa, the Naha District Court says about one out of every 1.3 citizens will receive a notification letter.

Naha District Court says refusals to serve on a jury will lead to penalties. “If you receive a notification, you must go to the court house,” an official says. “Unless you have some reason, like you are sick or too old, or disabled,” you must serve. Police officers and members of the Japan Self Defense Forces are restricted from jury pools.

The system of trial by jury doesn’t please everyone, particularly those individuals who don’t want to serve. “I don’t want o be the justice giver for the people,” says one opponent of the new system, “because he will hold a grudge against me if I say he is guilty.” Proponents say “there is nothing we can do if we receive the letter. We will report to the courthouse to deal out justice.” The jury service summons are valid for one year. The High Court of Justice says new letters of jury service notification will be sent out annually.

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