A good day for justiceThe National Assembly yesterday passed two judicial reform bills. One is a bill regarding the people’s participation in criminal trials, and it introduces a jury system. The other is a revision of the laws governing criminal justice procedure and included an expansion of the rules covering requests for a review of a prosecutor’s decision not to indict. Trial proceedings have hardly changed since 1961, when the criminal procedure laws were established. A small change was made in 1997, so that judges could hear suspects before issuing arrest warrants. Now the proceedings will undergo extensive reform. If a bill for law schools is also passed, the judiciary system will have been thoroughly reformed, from the training of lawyers to investigations and trials.
The revision will expand ways to protect human rights through judiciary procedures, which have been criticized for being too authoritarian. Under the revision, the people will participate in trials. These changes deserve our applause.
In particular, all suspects will now have the right for their lawyer to participate in, and raise objections to, an interrogation. Also, reviews of a prosecutor’s decision not to proceed with a case can be made in all cases. These measures will check prosecutors, who have hitherto enjoyed too much power.
Investigation procedures might be interrupted if a lawyer misuses the right to object. But considering that prosecutors have been notorious for exerting excessive pressure during interrogations, they should accept that they are the reason for this change. In the meantime, the accused can be released on bail if they meet certain conditions, such as signing a vow to reappear in court and submitting a guarantee letter from a third party. This improves the existing bail system, which has been regarded as a privilege of the rich.
But there are some worries about the reform. Regarding a jury system, in our society, networks of hometown and school ties exert an enormous influence. Thus, it is questionable whether a jury consisting of residents in any given district will be able to arrive at an unbiased decision about one of their neighbors. Bribery or intimidation of jurors must be prevented as well. Second, around 80 percent of those accused are not indicted, so the expansion of the right of review might result in a surge in lawsuits.
However, such minor obstacles must not stop these reforms. They must be resolved in a way that benefits the people, the recipients of judiciary services, not through fighting between the courts and prosecutors.