Excellent news today – there has been a decline in the number of murder indictments issued by Japanese prosecutors since the debut of the saibanin system (lay judge) in Japan. I predicted that this would happen, and sure enough, it has. The Japan Times reports that:
In 2006, 1,769 murder cases were handed over to prosecutors. Of them, 734, or 41 percent, led to indictments on the charge. Four years later, the rate dropped by 15 points to 26 percent, with only 424 cases out of 1,619 resulting in murder indictments.
Critics have argued on many occasions that the Japanese judiciary has long been a rubber stamp for the procuracy, leading to impossibly near-perfect conviction rates. Now that the saibanin have reported for work, the prosecutors have to think long and hard about the charges they bring before the court lest they start tarnishing their perfect record! I predict that there will be some fairly fundamental changes to the Japanese criminal justice system over the next 5 years.
…[A] senior official in the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office rejected this assessment but did not offer a better explanation. “It’s unlikely prosecutors are adopting lighter charges because of the launch of the lay judge system,” the official said, adding the reason behind the drop in murder indictments remains unknown.
Uh huh… To be fair, the counter-point to the above is impressively argued by David T. Johnson in “The Japanese Way of Justice: Prosecuting Crime in Japan”. Strongly recommended reading.
Here is a unique idea – let’s review a human being for a change… the Minister of Justice, Mr Toshio Ogawa.
There is, of course, a knack to passing judgment on someone else which, coincidentally, appears to be part of the new Justice Minister’s job description. According to the (at least) the title of the Japan Times, Ogawa “feels signing off on hangings just part of job description“. This is misleading though, because he does go on to explain in the interview that “I don’t really want to do it, but that is one of the justice minister’s job descriptions. With 130 inmates on death row and public opinion showing 85 percent of Japanese support the death sentence, it is inexcusable not to sign off on executions“.
Fair point. Although I am vehemently opposed to capital punishment, any Japanese Justice Minister would be in a difficult position when it comes to signing off on an execution. A 2009 Survey found that 85.8% were supported the death penalty. Read more…
Japanese news sources are reporting that Toshiaki Hikiji, who is accused of hitting and injuring (and in one case killing) 12 people in the Hiroshima-based Mazda complex in 2010, has pleaded guilty to having caused the injuries of 8 of the 12, but has pleaded that he is innocent in respect of the remaining three, of which one had been killed.
Apparently, counsel for Hikiji have argued during the trial that he was insane at the time of the incident. This, of course, relies on Article 39(1) of the Penal Code, which states that “[a]n act of insanity is not punishable.”
The verdict is scheduled for 9 March 2012. Watch this space!
I recall that the Japanese news outlets made a point of drawing parallels between this incident and the senseless Akihabara massacre in 2008, and the nodding heads on the panel discussion shows all agreed that both incidents were attributable to the hikikomori ”phenomenon”. Ultimately, not much eventuated; but it did lead to me reading Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation - a study into the “phenomenon” by Michael Zielenziger. While I disagree with much of his over-simplified characterizations about Japan, he does present the interesting thesis that the hikikomori is a manifestation of Japanese cultural ideosyncrasies. Worth a read.
Robert B. Leflar posted ”The Law of Medical Misadventure in Japan” on SSRN (download).
The abstract is as follows:
This paper offers a comprehensive overview of Japanese law and practice relating to iatrogenic (medically-caused) injury, with comparisons to other nations’ medical law systems. The paper addresses criminal sanctions for Japanese physicians’ negligent and illegal acts; civil law principles of substantive law and related issues of procedure, practice, and liability insurance; and administrative measures including health ministry programs aimed at expanding and improving the quality of peer review within Japanese medicine, and a recently implemented no-fault compensation system for birth-related injuries.
Among the paper’s findings are these. Criminal and civil actions increased rapidly after highly publicized medical error events at the turn of the 21st century, peaked from 2004 (civil cases filed) to 2006 (cases police sent to prosecutors), and have since declined. Civil Code provisions of substantive law governing medical injury compensation differ little from rules applied in North America and Western Europe, although the burden of proof of causation is relaxed in informed consent and loss-of-chance cases. Damage awards appear to be at least as high on average as in the U.S., and are applied on a more consistent basis. Procedural reforms, including the institution of health care divisions of district courts in some metropolitan areas, have speeded up the pace of court proceedings.
The new no-fault compensation system for birth-related injuries. offering substantial profit opportunities (as well as a theoretical risk of loss) to private insurers, has achieved virtually universal buy-in by childbirth facilities hoping for protection from future litigation. Evaluation of the system’s operation is still premature but worthy of scholarly attention. Should the obstetrical compensation system prove successful, it may serve as a springboard for the expansion of no-fault principles to cover a wider scope of medical injuries — a topic now under study.