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Political Needs for Lay Participation Around the Globe

Trial of jury provides the citizen the important legal shield from governmental oppression and unreasonable prosecution. Trial by jury also acts as a catalyst in promoting the importance of lay participation in the community and strengthening the perception of trial fairness and verdict legitimacy. Jury proceedings also promote the principle of orality, presumption of innocence, burden of proof, and higher evidentiary standard.

Today, it is thus no wonder that many citizens around the world are embracing the introduction of the jury or lay judges in democratizing their own jurisprudence and legal systems. Not since the nineteenth century in the wake of the French Revolution, when most European nations adopted the trial by jury system, so many countries around the world have recently rushed to incorporate jury trials into their legal systems. Those nations include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan15 in East Asia; Mexico, Venezuela,16 Bolivia, and Argentina in Central and South America; Uzbekistan, Kajikistan, Russia, and many former Soviet republics in Central Asia; and Spain in Western Europe. In Thailand with no history of jury trial, prior to the September 2006 coup, the Thai government was also considering the introduction of the system of lay judges in their legal system.17 In 1993, Russia also successfully reinstated jury trials after a break of more than seven decades. Recent studies showed that the acquittal rate by the jury became much higher (18%) than by judges (3.6%).18 The 2006 Russian national survey also showed that 44% of citizens would encourage friends and relatives to opt for a jury trial in criminal cases including the allegation of terrorism.19 The higher acquittal rate of Russian juries is partly due to the fact that the bulk of evidence against defendants in Russia has mainly consisted of their confessions extracted under torture, and all-citizen juries showed higher evidentiary standards in evaluating the legal validity and reliability of confessions.20

The current wave of judicial reforms in the world communities is similar to a kind of reform waves in the 19th century, triggered by the 1789 French Revolution and political unrest in Europe, which strengthened the petit trial jury in England, and soon the trial by jury became the integral part of the emerging democratic society in the U.S. and other nations in the European Continent.21 France, for example, introduced trial by jury in 1789 and it became an important political tool in the hands of the insurgent bourgeoisie against absolute French monarchy. German introduced trial by jury in 1848, Russia in 1864, Spain in 1872, Italian by the end of the 19th century, as well as in almost all other European nations.22

The recent institution and re-introduction of trial by jury in many countries in the world also follows the comparable dramatic shift in the balance of political power and order -- the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Since then, the U.S emerged as the lone global power and started to exert her military muscle and greater political influence. After 9/11, the U.S. assumed the world leadership against terrorism and began to engage in legally questionable intelligence activities, including warrantless surveillance, extra-ordinary renditions, lengthy detention of suspects in secret prisons, and torture of alleged terrorists including foreign nationals. As other foreign governments began to follow America’s footsteps in the prosecution of suspected terrorists, trial by jury was largely perceived to be the palladium of liberty in the hands of progressive citizens and insurgent intellectuals against the government’s abuse of power and authority. This world-wide trend in the establishment of popular legal participation thus reflects the fact that citizens in those nations are arming themselves with the legal apparatus to resist oppression from their own government, which became increasingly vulnerable to outside influence including the United States.

Civil Grand Juries and Their Oversight Functions

In times of the significant social change and political transformation, the jury emerged repeatedly as a symbol of democratic ideals because the system of lay judges effectively elevates ordinary citizens into the position of self-governance. For example, after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) regained political and juridical control of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997, the Hong Kong government successfully introduced a bill in 2003 that Hong Kongites charged with treason, secession, subversion, terrorism, or other crimes against the government must be tried by an all citizen jury and that those charged with sedition or unlawful disclosure may also opt for jury trial if they prefer.23 And Hong Kong is not the only country that tried to protect citizens from unreasonable prosecution by the government.

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