Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2007


Jury systems, Lay decision making, Mixed tribunals, Jury and Democracy Project, Citizen participation in law


Comparative and Foreign Law | International Law


On May 1, 2007, Korea's National Assembly approved a judicial reform bill that introduces a jury system for serious criminal cases in Korean courts. The jury system is limited: jurors will only participate in cases where the defendant agrees to a trial by jury, and the jury's verdicts are only advisory to the judge. Nonetheless, Korean citizens now have a remarkable new opportunity to make judgments about criminal trials.

With this law reform, Korea joins a growing list of countries whose legal systems employ citizens as legal decision makers. The United States, Great Britain, and many other common law countries use juries composed of citizens drawn from the general population who decide cases collectively. Civil law countries also use laypersons but more typically in the role of mixed decision-making bodies with law-trained judges. Lay judges, lay magistrates, and lay courts are also part of some judicial systems. What is the significance of including citizens as legal decision makers? Do the different forms of citizen involvement matter? Do they genuinely promote democracy and meaningfully contribute to the legal system's legitimacy, or do they merely serve as window-dressing, a patina of democratic participation masking authority that lies elsewhere?

I have looked on with great interest as other countries have experimented in recent years with employing juries or mixed tribunals of lay citizens and law-trained judges in legal fact-finding. For example, following the oppressive regime of Franco, Spain introduced a jury system, as did Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Other countries transitioning from communist rule to democracy have introduced mixed tribunals that include citizen decision makers. In addition to the Korean example, proposals for greater public access and involvement of lay citizens in the legal systems of other East Asian countries have also occurred. This special issue of the Cornell International Law Journal considers the promises and challenges of these multiple forms of citizen participation in legal decision making in a range of countries.

Publication Citation

Published in: Cornell International Law Journal, vol. 40, no. 2 (Spring 2007).