UPDATE (2009.09.03.08:20): Thank you to everyone who participated today. Today’s session was about lay judges, a new system introduced into the Japanese courts. We read this article about it , Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009. We then discussed the origins and purposes of the jury system. This involved learning something about Magna Carta. I feel very grateful to the people who made Magna Carta and forced King John to sign it. The jury system was intended to be a legal protection against the almost limitless powers of the king: Magna Carta states that the king may not punish any freeman except by the consent of his (the freeman’s) peers. The peers does not mean the peerage (the aristrocracy), but “the people”, as opposed to the king or the ruling class. It put a limit on the king’s power.
Before reading the article, I introduced a book about the financial crisis: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and the Government Bailout Will Make Things Worse and its Japanese translation メルトダウン 金融溶解 The foreword to the book was written by US Senator Ron Paul. Ron Paul has written his own book on the subject of the Federal Reserve: End the Fed. You can read chapter 2 of this book for free on the Mises Institute website (Ludwig von Mises was one of the most important Austrian economists. Read about him in Japanese here). The libertarian website Lew Rockwell.com has announced that Ron Paul’s book “End the Fed is now #4 in non-fiction on Amazon, and #17 overall. End the Fed!”
During August, our Reading Group had no meetings. But that does not mean that members were not busy. Some of them read Atlas Shrugged (some in English, some in Japanese 肩をすくめるアトラス). One member read Emma (Jane Austen‘s classic Pride and Prejudice , or in Japanese 自負と偏見, was the subject of an earlier reading course, and we read the beginning of Emma, or エマ in our first session). She also read City of Glass (in Japanese シティ・オヴ・グラス ) by Paul Auster. (Here is a website in Japanese about the story: シティ・オヴ・グラス.)
The first session after the holidays. To make a change from reading fiction, I have chosen a newspaper article about the new system of lay judges adopted in Japanese courts this year.
The article is Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009.
As well as discussing this article, we will be looking at the history of the jury system: when and why it was established. To prepare for this, read about Magna Carta (in Japanese here), especially about rights still in force today.
UPDATE: Here is the original Latin from Magna Carta which relates to trial by jury. “Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisetur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur; nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terrae.” According to Lysander Spooner, in his “Essay on the Trial by Jury” (1852),
The most common translation of these words, at the present day, is as follows: “No freeman shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, nor will we (the king) pass upon him, nor condemn him, unless by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.”
As I mentioned during the session, the “law of the land” was also called “Common Law”, and it was different from laws created by the king. In other words, the Common Law is law independent of the king. At the time (the Middle Ages), kings had to promise to protect and respect the Common Law, although many of them did not (and King John was one of the worst in this regard, and the result was the barons opposed him).
Lysander Spooner, in his essay on trial by jury, examines the exact words of the Magna Carta, and other charters of that time, and argues that the purpose of the jury was originally not only to decide guilt or innocence, but also to decide whether the law was just or not. In other words, the purpose of trial by jury is to check and limit the power of the king to do exactly whatever he wants. Spooner gives evidence that King John was extremely angry about the contents of Magna Carta and at first refused to sign it. He even appealed to the Pope, and the Pope replied with sympathy. Spooner writes that this shows that both King John and the Pope understood that the Magna Carta was taking away a very great power from the king: it was not only about deciding guilt or innocence, but it gave the jury the power to express their judgment of the law itself. Obviously, if only the king can make laws but if the jury can decide whether the law is fair or not and refuse to punish anyone who is accused under an unfair law, then this gives the people a very great protection against the abuse of power that any king might make. It is protection for the people against the king, or government, or state.
This history lesson teaches us much about the purpose and meaning of trial by jury, and also throws some light onto the lay-judge system created in Japan recently.
I will also bring an article about the recent elections, to show the point of view from the British media.
UPDATE: In fact, we did not have time to discuss this. I have a list of links to articles in the British press about the election at my other blog Searching for Accurate Maps. A Japanese comedy troupe called The Newspaper has created a comedy skit showing Hatoyama choosing his new cabinet ministers. Watch the video here.