In court: What it means to be a lay judge – Society


The image that most people have of the criminal justice system is this: an impenetrable apparatus over which normal people have no influence. The opposite is the case: without Normalos, a large part of the criminal justice system would not be possible. In order for judgments to be passed, there must be lay judges in each criminal chamber.

How up-to-date the participation of lay people in the judiciary is, is often discussed. Some consider it to be a cornerstone of democracy: all state power emanates from the people, according to the Basic Law. The others see it as a relic of the 19th century. Mainly because it’s so difficult to get people for this Volunteering to find. They are elected for a term of office of several years according to a complicated system. German courts are desperately looking for tens of thousands of people who have the time and desire to spend part of their lives as a kind of supporting actor in court. To do a job for which there is neither pay nor recognition, which is tedious and can be very boring at times.

Court hearings often could not start because a lay judge was stuck in traffic

I myself think that everyone should apply for this position once in their life. Not just because the justice relies on volunteers. But also because you get insights into society in court that you don’t have otherwise. A jury once told me that he could always look the accused and witnesses in the face – a perspective that most of those involved in the trial do not have.

Above all, there is hardly any other place where one’s own voice carries so much weight. A Grand Trial Chamber with three professional judges and two lay judges can only sentence someone to a sentence if at least four judges vote in favor of it. If both judges disagree, the accused must be acquitted. Ultimately, the judges without robes decide what is right and what is wrong.

You can always tell how responsible a job is by how much can go wrong. I have experienced countless times that a court hearing could not start because a lay judge was stuck in traffic. A lengthy one process about the death of a child because one of the judges died on the day the verdict was pronounced. The process, which was already difficult for everyone involved, had to be completely rolled out again.

And again and again the lay judges themselves deal with the courts. Because a lay judge was inattentive at the beginning of a hearing or “closed his eyes for at least a minute, opened his mouth slightly and sat in a relaxed position”, as the Federal Court of Justice later determined, the indictment had to be reread. It was even worse for a lay judge from Duisburg who was supposed to judge a mafia trial involving international cocaine trafficking. Because he fell asleep while the key witness was giving evidence, he was declared biased and removed from the criminal court.

Column: In court: At this point, Verena Mayer and Ronen Steinke write in weekly alternation about their experiences in German courts.

At this point, Verena Mayer and Ronen Steinke write in weekly alternation about their experiences at German courts.

(Photo: Bernd Schifferdecker (Illustration))



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