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In the U.S., in addition to petit criminal juries, the grand jury has played an important role as popular oversight of government activities since its inception. The grand jury first emerged in England from ecclesiastical courts when Henry II called for a judicial panel of sixteen men to remove criminal indictments from the hands of the powerful church in 1164.24 The first American grand jury was assembled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, and all colonies instituted the system of the grand jury by 1638 and established the system of civic oversight of the colonial government controlled by the Britain.25

Today the grand jury system was divided into two distinct systems of government oversight functions: (1) a “criminal grand jury” to determine indictments in criminal cases, and (2) a “civil grand jury” designed to investigate, assess, and examine the function of the local government. Today several states including California and Nevada require the use of all citizen civil grand juries to investigate the local government including DA’s office, the police, and local jails and prisons. Several grassroots organizations are also created in California by a group of citizens who previously served as civil grand jurors. For example, the American Grand Jury Foundation was first established in 1979 and San Mateo County Association of Grand Jurors (SMCAGJ) in 1982.26

Japan also created the similar oversight body called the Prosecutorial Review Commission (PRC). The PRC was originally created by the Allied Forces occupying Japan after World War II, and the PRC became a hybrid institution, adapting the American grand jury system into the Japanese cultural and legal context. The PRC’s purpose is similar to that of the American civil grand jury in examining and inspecting the proper functioning of local pubic offices, including the DA’s office. Also similar to the criminal grand jury, the PRC has an influence on the decision to indict. Given the fact that, in Japan, 99.9% of indicted cases result in conviction, the PRC’s ex-post examination of the appropriateness of non-indictment decisions became an important mechanism of checking prosecutorial discretions and power.27 The commission is comprised of eleven citizens randomly chosen from an electoral register, is appointed to a six months term, and has the power to review whether or not non-prosecution decisions made by public prosecutors are appropriate.

Similar to the American grand jury, the PRC investigates cases in private by summoning petitioners, proxies, and witnesses for examination,28 questioning prosecutors,29 asking them for additional information when necessary,30 and seeking special expert advice on the case.31 After deliberating on the case, the commission submits one of three recommendations: (1) non-indictment is proper, (2) non-indictment is improper, and (3) indictment is proper.32 A simple majority is needed for either of the first two resolutions, while a special majority of at least eight votes is needed to pass the third resolution.33 The commission then delivers a written recommendation to the prosecutor’s office.34 The revised 2004 PRC law gave PRC’s indictment decisions the legally binding status. Since Japanese prosecutors have been extremely reluctant to indict prominent politicians, Japanese bureaucrats, and other political members of the Japanese government, the PRC is now seen as the powerful civic oversight of political organizations and administrative bureaucracies of the Japanese government.

In order to promote popular legal participation and publicize the importance of its duty in Japan, the Prosecutorial Review Commission Society (PRCS) was established in 1955. Currently many regional branch offices exist all over Japan, and PRCS offices are actively holding symposiums and forums to educate the general public about the importance of civic participation in PRC duties.

Transcommunal Alliance of Grassroots Organizations to Hold the Government in Check

UC Santa Cruz Sociology Professor John Brown Childs argues that the transcommunality involves positive grassroots dialogue, thereby posing “challenges to the smothering monologues of power elite.”35 Similarly, Professor Childs urges the establishment of constructive and developmental interaction “distinct autonomy-oriented communities and organizations, each with its own particular history, outlook, and agenda.”36

The establishment of the transcommunal alliance among cross-national grassroots organizations promotes the world-wide system of popular oversight of our governments. Several grass-roots organizations in Japan and the U.S. have already been established by citizens who previously served as lay judges. The American Grand Jury Foundation’s primary objective has been to: (1) educate and train the general public and local government officials about grand jury matters, (2) encourage research into the American grand jury system by providing internships, grants, and awards, and (3) recognize and publicize achievements of grand jurors, governmental officials and employees, and other citizens who have contributed to improving the grand jury system.37 Another influential civic organization, San Mateo County Association of Grand Jurors (SMCAGJ), also consists of former grand jurors with purpose to disseminate the importance of grand jury functions and provide training information and educational materials to children in schools. The association was first founded in 1982 and is also a certified chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.

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