The Rebirth of Japan’s Petit Quasi-Jury and Grand Jury Systems: A Cross-National Analysis of Legal Consciousness and the Lay Participatory Experience in Japan and the U.S.

Fukurai, Hiroshi


Journal article written by 2005 Abe Fellow Hiroshi Fukurai based on his project “Cross-National Analysis of the Lay Participation System in Japan and the U.S.: The New Saiban-in Seido (Quasi-Jury System) in Japan and the Criminal Jury System in the U.S.” 

This is a unique moment in the history of the Japanese legal system, as the Japanese Government has decided to introduce “Saiban-in Seido”-a petit quasi-jury system-which will be instated in 2009. The introduction of the first quasi-jury trial also marks the start of another newly-revised grand jury system, called “Kensatsu Shinsakai,” or the Prosecutorial Review Commission (PRC). The revised PRC law mandated that the resolution be given legally binding status, and that the law be put into effect by May 2009, when the first quasi-jury trial begins in Japan.

While many scholars have studied the petit quasi-jury system, the newly revised grand jury system, i.e., the PRC system, will have a far greater impact in democratizing the criminal process and building broader public confidence in the Japanese justice system. While under the petit quasi-jury system both lay and professional judges have a role in deciding the final verdicts and appropriate sentences, the PRC is composed solely of eleven randomly chosen citizens from the local community. The system is similar to that of the United States’s civil grand jury in examining and inspecting the proper functioning of local public offices, including the DA’s office.Also similar to the criminal grand jury, the PRC has influence over the decision to indict.

Furthermore, contrary to past research indicating that Japanese citizens share a strong sense of obedience to legal authority and prefer a bench trial to an adversarial jury trial, the experience with civic legal participation has, in fact, increased the public’s level of legal consciousness and willingness to participate in the legal system. I surveyed people who served in the PRC in Japan and people who served on juries in the United States to examine the impact of the experience on their legal consciousness.The study found that both groups were more willing than people without legal experience to serve on juries, perceived fewer obstacles in serving on juries, and had more confidence in popular legal participation.They also developed greater confidence in the ability of ordinary people to reach a fair and just decision.