Current debate on the Japanese lay judge system

Current debate on the Japanese lay judge system
Picture: Lady Justice. By Tingey Injury Law Firm, via Unsplash, 2020.


Malina Wiethaus

Japan and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defense 

On April 1st 2022 the legal age of adulthood in Japan was lowered from 20 years to 18 years. As a result, the revised Juvenile Act makes more crimes committed by 18- and 19-year-olds applicable to criminal trials. However, this is not the only change in the criminal law system impacted by the lowered legal age of adulthood (Baseel, 2021). 

Besides this, the changes in the Juvenile Act qualify 18- and 19-year-olds to act as lay judges in criminal trials. High School students expressed concerns about the new opportunity. Most often students criticize their little experience and inability to decide about life and death. Students see this decision as irresponsible. On the other hand, others view the opportunity positively, as this could be a possibility for young people to voice their opinions about ongoing trials (The Mainichi, 2022). 

Overall, the participation of young people in Japan's law judge system has been lacking since the introduction of the lay judge system in 2009. In 2020, only 1.2 percent of law judges were students, and only 14 percent were in their 20s. Courts hope that the changes in the Juvenile Act will increase youth participation as lay judges. From January 2023 onwards 18- and 19-year-olds will be able to take part in trials as lay judges. Nevertheless, being a student is considered a valid reason to refuse to participate (The Mainichi, 2022). 


Sources and further readings: 

Baseel, C. (2021, January 25). Japan’s legal age of adulthood dropping by two years, but do 

teens understand what that means? Japan Today. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from


BBC. (2015, June 17). Voting age in Japan to be lowered from 20 to 18. BBC News. 

Retrieved March 22, 2022, from

Human Rights Watch. (2022, January 13). World Report 2022: Rights Trends in Japan

Retrieved March 22, 2022, from

The Mainichi. (2022, May 5). High school students share views on lay judge system as age of 

majority lowered in Japan. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from

Osumi, M. (2022, March 22). Japan is set to lower the legal age of adulthood. How will 

young people be affected? The Japan Times. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from