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Ex-lay judge sues gov't for mental suffering


A 62-year-old woman who served as a citizen judge in a murder case filed suit against the government on Tuesday seeking 2 million yen in damages, arguing her involvement in the trial caused her to suffer acute stress disorder.

The woman, a resident of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, was one of the six lay judges who, together with three professional judges of the Koriyama branch of the Fukushima District Court, sentenced a 46-year-old man in March to death for killing a couple.

In the suit filed with the Sendai District Court, the plaintiff asserts that the lay judge scheme runs counter to the Constitution which bans the state from imposing involuntary servitude on people. Article 18 of the Constitution states: "No person shall be held in bondage of any kind. Involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, is prohibited."

In claiming the unconstitutionality, the plaintiff notes that under the law on the lay judge system, the state can fine those who refuse to respond to calls from judicial authorities to serve as lay judges.

Judicial sources said this is the first lawsuit filed by a former lay judge against the citizen judge system established under a set of revised laws enacted in 2004. Under the legislation, in 2009 citizens began to serve as lay judges in trials of heinous crimes such as murder, robbery, arson and rape.

The plaintiff also argued that Diet members who voted for the law revision committed serious negligence.

According to the suit, the plaintiff attended all nine days of the trial and vomited on the first day of the proceedings after seeing color photos showing the murder site.

Afterward, she came to see flashbacks of the photos and awoke frequently at night, according to the suit.

The plaintiff was diagnosed at a hospital in Fukushima Prefecture as suffering from an acute stress disorder and remains under medical treatment.

After filing the suit with the court, the plaintiff told reporters that her main purpose is to spare other citizens from experiencing similar mental trauma.

In the murder trial the defendant, Akihiko Takahashi, on March 14 was sentenced to death as sought by prosecutors. The defendant filed an appeal against the decision later in the day.

Several citizen judges told reporters after the judgment that they suffered mental trauma, noting they saw not only the photos of the murder site but also heard during the trial the recorded voices of the victims in an emergency call to rescuers.