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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 18:10 UK

Japan's landmark jury trial ends

Jurors talk to media after the trial
The jury thanked court officials for their help during the trial

Japan's first jury trial for more than 60 years has ended with a man in his 70s being sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder.

The new jury system is the result of a major overhaul of Japan's legal system, aimed at speeding up trials and offering greater transparency.

In the landmark case, six men and women working with three judges convicted and sentenced Katsuyoshi Fujii, 72.

Until now Japanese trials have been decided by a panel of judges.

The last time a citizen jury was part of a Japanese trial was in a short-lived experiment before World War II.

Since then, the system has been prosecution-led, largely based on confessions and with little emphasis on court testimony.

The BBC's Andre Vornic says that for Japanese prosecutors, an acquittal means a career setback.

This ensures that only cases almost certain to lead to a conviction tend to be prosecuted.

High conviction rate

Fewer people go to jail in Japan than in the West. But the conviction rate - 99% of all cases - is astronomic by Western standards, our correspondent adds.

Critics say the old system was slow, lacked transparency and was out of touch.

The jury system has also come in for criticism, with some experts arguing that randomly selected members of the public are not fit to decide the outcome of serious criminal cases.

In the new system, the jurors - who are considered lay judges - must have the agreement of at least one of three professional judges for their decision to stand. They also decide on the sentencing.

During the four-day trial in Tokyo District Court, the citizen judges questioned the defendant over the fatal stabbing of a 66-year-old neighbour in May.

Fujii had pleaded guilty but his lawyers sought leniency in the sentencing.

Murder can result in the death penalty in Japan, although it is rare in cases involving a single victim.

Presiding Judge Yasuhiro Akiba said the jury had sentenced the defendant to 15 years in jail - one year short of what prosecutors had sought - because the stabbing was not premeditated.

The citizen judges later said it had been difficult to decide on the sentence, but they praised the professional judges, prosecutors and defence team for making their arguments easy to follow.



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SEE ALSO
Japan relaunches trials by jury
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