Criminal Justice News and VIews

Interesting items related to criminal justice

My Photo
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

I love teaching and sharing knowledge. The Internet is a free passage to an amazing amount of knowledge provided by some of the greatest minds of the day. MIT, Oxford and other universities are now sharing lecture notes with the public and allowing us to dip into the overflowing fonts of wisdom that abound. Yale is but one university that has put actual lectures on the web.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Court Junkies and Citizen Judges in Japan

Court junkies get high on trials

Yomiuri Weekly (Jan 8-15)

When Daifunka Asozan, a professional comedian, has free time on his hands, he heads not to a pachinko parlor or a video game center -- but to the Tokyo District Court.

There, he parks himself in the spectators gallery and waits for the drama to unfold. And he is rarely disappointed.

"In TV dramas, trials are always portrayed as grave and serious affairs. But that's not really the case. They're fun places to be, and even novices in the law like myself can understand what's going,"

According to Yomiuri Weekly, Asozan admits that during particularly long spells between jobs, he has attended trials every day from Monday to Friday.

Why? Because, as he also told The Japan Times in an interview last month, he often finds the proceedings so riveting that it's difficult to drag himself away.

The comedian has been a courtroom junkie for the last six years. His fascination started with the trials into the gruesome crimes by members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

But these days, Asozan's hobby is no longer so esoteric. According to Yomiuri Weekly, watching court trials simply for the fun of it is becoming something of a fad. Although there are no concrete statistics recording the number of court spectators nationwide, the magazine cites a recent proliferation of publications written by court junkies (including a book by Asozan) and Internet sites dedicated to the topic as evidence that more and more lay people are attending court trials for their own entertainment and education.

The first such Web site to appear is titled the Court Spectating Friendship Association (

"At the beginning, just a group of friends were involved. But now we're getting more than 300 hits a day and 2,000 on a busy day," says the site's Web master, Yoshitake Oyanagi.

In addition, seminars have sprung up with the sole aim of educating lay people in legal matters so that they can better appreciate the courtroom proceedings they come to witness.

So why the surge in interest? The experts the magazine talks to all credit the series of Aum trials, which so captivated Asozan. A number of cult members were convicted of murder and other serious crimes in connection with the nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway and a string of other astonishing incidents.

Another factor that has stirred interest among the public in the legal system is the planned introduction of "citizen judges" in 2009. Under the system, lay people selected by their peers make decisions on the guilt or innocence of criminal suspects during trials.

As it happened, the May 2004 decision made to implement the system coincided with various proposals offered by courts around the country to make the public more interested and involved in the legal system. One such idea is to hold guided tours of courtrooms.

As a result of all this, the courtroom galleries are increasingly filling up with members of the public. With real -- as opposed to fictional -- drama taking place right before their eyes, it wouldn't be surprising if more and more people start heading to the courts rather than amusement centers to spend some quality leisure time.