Learning from Japan participatory Criminal Justice reform
Professor Kent Anderson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Western Australia, asked 20 students of foreign countries in a classroom at Graduate School of Law in Kyushu University in Japan, being a foreign student how do you feel here in Japan. Without any prejudice, all students voluntarily answered that Japan is the safer country, even to some extend more than their respective home countries.
Global Peace Index 2016 by Institute for Economics and Peace ranked Japan in the ninth peaceful country in the world and second in Asia Pacific. What is behind this scenario, indeed in comparative criminological studies, it has been beyond average civic sojourn, why does it look like so?
Japanese society and Criminal Justice System are two main options for the answer of the above question. In the twenty-first century, Law and society is no more a separate entity. Legal Sociological development has been behind the success of Japan not merely in crude economics, but truly in peace and harmony for human dignity in the community.
Japanese society has a long tradition of mutual respect. Each community has divided into small groups. The Gonin-gumi system consisted of groups of five members who were a bit elder in a village or a town, including appointed group leaders called 'Kumigashira'.
This 'Gonin-gumi' system ultimately facilitated to give 'Nanushi/Shoya' authority, control the life of the citizens, and reinforce autonomy of the villages and towns. Along with the development of the modern self-governing laws, the 'Gonin-gumi' disappeared as a legal system; however, the 'tonarigumi' or neighbourhood association (established in 1940) system during World War II took over its characteristics.
However, Japan has been truly a Police State with a very positive connotation. From the Meiji era, Kobansho or Police Box system was introduced with the concept of one county one police station. This policing technique acknowledged a lot of coverage during the 70s and 80s.
The success of this system is big data. Police have been familiar with almost every citizen and every corner of the specific community. Japan has its registered data of Yakuza, underworld mafia. On 23 March 2017, The Japan Times reported that the number of crime syndicate fell down from 20000 to 18100 in 2016, the lowest from 1958, as per statistics of National Police Agency.
With many other reasons, due to this one Japan Police have been enjoying low crime rates in the world. For example, on 06 January 2017 BBC reported that Japan has almost eradicated gun crime.
Being a civil law country, the conviction rate in Japanese Criminal Justice System is highest in the world, more than 95 per cent. Police have the procedural authority to detain people for 23 days before indictment. Even in this adversarial system, there is less chance to be guilty without committing crime.
However, there is a debate in the standard of presumption of innocence until she or he proved guilty. To overcome this debate, Japan introduced Siaban-in System in Criminal Courts. Saiban-in is lay person participation in the judicial system. Six lay persons are along with three Judges constitute this unique criminal procedural system. The Saiban-in is being operated by a simple majority, though the majority must include at least one of the three judges. Jurors cannot waive their right to a Saiban-in trial, and all judges, lawyers and persons over 70 are automatically excused from the juror pool. The most interesting thing is about the people's spontaneous response to be involved in the judicial process. In annual advertisement almost 90000 Japanese people applied for lay person position in recent years. Even introduction of this system does not affect the extreme rate of conviction, which is a matter of concern for legal professionals.
Politeness is a way of life here. Even the criminals are good here in Japan. The Yakuzas activities do not bear any impact in common citizenry's lives. It is even, not uneven to see that Yakuzas are also bowing to other common citizens as Japan is a non-touch country and it is the common way of showing respect to others.
It is because of the relationship between society and culture. The cultural uniqueness has been portraying the image of 'law does not matter'. The 'law in the books' might not change the situation substantially. Due to the notion, law does not matter, Japanese society engrossed in schools to build culture. The schools are students' whole world. Many scholars believe that this schooling and cultural inclination are the reason behind the confessional attitude of criminals, low police apprehensions, low crime rates, high conviction rates, and after all a confident criminal justice system.
Understanding Japanese policing, hence forward criminal justice system in broader perspectives largely depends on its cultural connotations and social continuum. As Asian values have been deeply rooted with ancient heroism and cultural heritage and again refocusing on newer global-asia-nisation, it is undoubted to learn each other through multidimensional cooperation and legal outreach programs.
Al Asad Md Mahfuzul Islam is JDS Fellow, LLM in Graduate School of Law, Kyushu University, Japan