November 23, 2008
When Big Systems Change
I love stories of big systems changing. Especially systems so deep that we don’t necessarily think of them as things you can change. Case in point: The Japanese court system is adding juries for the first time.
(America’s legal tradition has had juries since 1166. This does not feel like a thing that changes.)
So Japan’s new Saiban-in system has juries with six citizens and three judges, all sitting together. And check this out:
Perhaps the starkest departure from the U.S. method is that the panels will be encouraged to participate in “intermediate” deliberations. Panel member Reiko Kaihatsu ‘08 LL.M., a judge in the Saitama District Court, said that the nine jurors should “discuss and evaluate the evidence” throughout the trial — while, say, on recess or at lunch. She explained that legislative planners learned in a series of mock trials that such discussions facilitate two of the court system’s chief goals, speed and transparency. In other words, the single most infamous cause for mistrials in the United States — jurors discussing a case and forming an opinion prior to deliberations — will be a central component of the Saiban-in way.
You know what I’d read? A concise book called Our Systems. It would cover the basics of how societies on earth are organized — how they choose leaders, collect and spend money, manage markets, make and enforce laws — and would endeavor to present each system in good faith, whether it’s the U.S., Egypt, Russia, Sweden, or China. That is, it would be descriptive, not prescriptive — and to the degree possible, it would skip the root ideologies (I feel like we’ve heard all about those) and get to the nuts and bolts: How many people on a jury? How do you pick a judge? Who’s allowed to own land? Who picks the president? And so on.
And let me emphasize: concise. There’s probably some Comparative Government book out there that does what I want — in 700 pages. But I want 70. Or seven!