Jun 20, 2009

Lay judge system and the Church

Last Thursday morning, several news reporters of major Japanese companies gathered together at Japanese Bishops' Conference in Shiomi, Tokyo. It is not common sight to see these news reporters in our building since Catholic Church in Japan is just a minority religious group. However, for the issue of SAIBAN-IN, the lay judge system which was introduced on 21 May this year, these reporters were waiting for our official comments which had been discussed during the just-ended annual meeting of the CBCJ.

I quote the official explanation from the English Home Page of the ministry of Justice on the lay judge system.

"The saiban-in (lay judge) system is due to commence on May 21st. 2009. This system is such that those members of the general public who have been selected will participate in trials for the most serious of criminal cases. They will determine the sentence, including whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty, together with professional judges. Once this system commences it is hoped that more people will feel involved in the justice process. The Ministry of Justice has been actively involved in publicizing and promoting the saiban-in system so that more people will be able to understand its role and functions"

According to the opinion of Cannon Lawyer, the expert of the law of Catholic Church, this act of "determine the sentence" could consist of exercising of civil power. Clerics and religious are prohibited to assume public office which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power according to the Cannon Law 285. After consulting the Holy See, Bishops decided that Japanese priests and religious who are eligible to be chosen as the lay judges should not participate the system.

However, as for the laity in the Church, there is nothing to prevent them to be a lay judge. Bishops are asking in the official statement (in Japanese) that laity should act according to their own conscience and make their own judgement. However, at the same time, Bishops expressed their hope that laity would act in respect of Church's teaching and, if necessary, consult priests. (photo above; Bishops and priests attending Mass together in Shiomi)

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