An Overview of the Criminal Justice System in Japan - (2023)

  • context
  • Introduction to the Japanese legal system
  • legal counsel
  • arrest and detention
  • Your rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
  • The preliminary investigation
  • The Criminal Trial
  • Duration of a trial and a conviction
  • vocations
  • deportation
  • Transfer to a Canadian prison
  • Petitions for clemency in death penalty cases
  • Related Links


The information on this website is provided by the Government of Canada as a public service. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, the information contained herein is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind, either express or implied. The Government of Canada assumes no responsibility or liability and shall not be liable for any damages related to the information provided. This publication is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon, legal or other advice. The reader is advised to consult legal counsel in the event of arrest or detention and to supplement this information with independent research and professional advice. The information on this website is updated regularly; However, laws can change at any time.


This document aims to provide you with basic information on how the Japanese criminal justice system works. It does not replace legal advice, which can only be provided by a lawyer licensed in Japan. It should also be read in conjunction with the bookletA Guide for Canadians Detained Abroad.

If you break the laws of another country, you are subject to that country's judicial system. Being a foreigner or not knowing local laws is not an excuse. Your Canadian passport will not get you out of confinement or jail. Global Affairs Canada cannot protect you from the consequences of your actions or override the decisions of local authorities.

The Japanese and Canadian criminal justice systems differ significantly. This can add to the stress and practical issues that arise from arrest and detention in Japan. For example, please note that in Japan:

  • If you are arrested, you can be held for up to 23 days, with the possibility of an extension, without being formally charged with a crime.
  • The police are allowed to begin the initial questioning before you consult a lawyer.

The Government of Canada strives to ensure that you are not penalized for being a foreigner, discriminated against or denied justice because you are Canadian. However, it cannot seek preferential treatment for you or attempt to exempt you from due process under local law. The Canadian government cannot interfere in another country's judicial system, just as Canadians would not accept any other government interfering in Canada's judicial process.

For more information on the services that consular officers can and cannot provide, see the brochureA Guide for Canadians Detained Abroad.

Introduction to the Japanese legal system

The legal system of Japan is based on civil law. Under Japanese criminal law, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. In case of doubt, the accused must agree.

If an accused is convicted of a crime, he or she will be punished with the penalty prescribed by law. The procedure in a criminal case is the same throughout Japan; the basic criminal law provisions can be found on the Internet atcriminal codeAndCode of Criminal Procedure.

The role of the prosecutor is to present facts and information to the court to establish the guilt of an accused and to request the court to punish the accused according to the law. The decision to plead guilty or not guilty is solely the decision of the defendant.

The court system in Japan consists of summary courts, district courts, family courts, high courts and the Supreme Court of Japan. A three-tier court system is used for criminal cases: a summary or district court (first instance), a supreme court (second instance), and finally the Supreme Court (court of appeals).

legal counsel

Your choice of legal representation in Japan can be crucial and should be made with care. Canadian consular officers can provide you with a list of attorneys who have experience in your particular case and may have represented Canadians in the past.However, you cannot select or recommend a specific attorney.You may prefer to hire a lawyer who is not on the list.This decision remains your responsibility.Please refer to the Choosing a Lawyer section of the brochure for more informationA Guide for Canadians Detained Abroad.

Private attorneys in Japan can be expensive, and costs can increase depending on the number of pre-trial visits, the number of court appearances, and the amount of work involved. The Embassy of Canada in Japan has created an onlineList of English and French speaking lawyers by prefecturefor your reference.

If you cannot hire a private attorney, you can apply for a court-appointed attorney.These are not available immediately after arrest unless you are charged with a criminal offense with a possible prison sentence of more than three years. In this case, you can immediately request a court-appointed lawyer. If you are accused of a minor crime, a court-appointed attorney may not be available until after a charge (a formal charge of a crime) has been filed.

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Because court-appointed attorneys also have private clients, there may be a delay between when attorney is appointed for your case and when your trial begins. The number of visits you can expect from a court-appointed attorney varies widely; In general, you can expect more visits if you hire a private attorney.

If necessary, the lawyer will use an interpreter. The costs of a court-appointed attorney and a court interpreter are generally borne by the Japanese government, but this is at the discretion of the judge. You can be held liable for court costs. Private attorneys typically include interpreter fees in their legal fees. You should discuss the costs you may incur with your lawyer.

If you need an attorney before you qualify for a court-appointed attorney, you can request that the police contact the nearest available attorney atpublic defender or toban bengoshi program. This lawyer will meet you for an initial free consultation. If an interpreter is required, the local bar association will cover the costs. If you then decide to hire this lawyer, you will have to pay for the follow-up services. Contact details can be found belowJCenter for Criminal Defense Duty of the Apanese Federation of Bar Associations: Contact List for Attorneys.

arrest and detention

Please note: Japan is aINTERPOL member country; You can therefore be subject to oneINTERPOL Notice.

Japanese criminal law applies to both Japanese citizens and foreigners who commit crimes on the territory of Japan.

An arrest in Japan is usually associated with a longer stay in police custody.If you are imprisoned yourself for minor offenses such as petty theft or possession of very small amounts of illegal drugs, you may be detained for an extended period of time during the investigation and trial. If you are arrested by the police for questioning, the initial interview can last several hours.You can ask the police to provide an interpreter; The police may also request one if they deem it necessary.These interpreters are paid by the police. The skills of Japanese-English interpreters can vary widely, and qualified Japanese-French interpreters are not as readily available.

In rare cases where the arrest is unfounded, prosecutors may order compensation if you are arrested without charge and released. You also have the right to sue for damages from the prefectural government responsible for the police or prosecutor involved in your case if you have suffered damage as a result of any mistakes they may have made. You should speak to your attorney if any of these situations apply to you.

Your rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

If you are arrested or detained abroad and wish to notify Canadian consular officials, you should communicate this clearly to the Japanese authoritiesVienna Convention on Consular Relationsto inform you about your right of access to a consular representative.However, you are under no obligation to notify a Canadian consular post of your detention or arrest unless you ask them to do so.

Under the Convention, Japanese authorities are also required to transmit any communication you send to the consular post to a Canadian consular post. For example, if you are writing a letter to the Embassy of Canada or another Canadian consulate in Japan, that letter must be delivered. This is in line with your rights to communicate with and have access to a consular officer. These rights must be exercised in accordance with the laws and regulations of Japan.

If you choose to speak to Canadian consular officers, any information you give them will be kept confidential.subject to the regulations of CanadaData Protection Act. Normally, it will not be shared with anyone other than the consular officers handling your case without your consent. However, under theData Protection Act, personal data may be disclosed in certain circumstances, e.g. B. where disclosure would clearly benefit you, when the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any interference with your privacy, or as a result of a court order. Please consult thePrivacy Policy for Consular Servicesfor more details.

At your meeting with a consular officerplease inform him/herif the Japanese authorities have not informed you of your right to request that Canadian officials be informed of your arrest or detention or have at any time denied you the right to communicate with or have access to a Canadian consular officer.

Upon arrest, dual-citizen Canadians will be asked to select a citizenship country from which to seek consular assistance. The Embassy of Canada may have limited ability to provide you with consular services if you choose to seek assistance from your other citizenship country.

The preliminary investigation

If you are arrested, you can be held for up to 23 days, with the possibility of an extension, without being formally charged with a crime.First, the Japanese police can detain you for up to 48 hours. During this time they must inform you of the crime you are suspected of committing, your right to remain silent, your right to hire a lawyer at your own expense and your right to inform the Canadian Embassy of your offence Arrest.Under Japanese law, the police are allowed to begin the initial questioning before you consult a lawyer.

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If the police decide within that 48-hour period that there is enough evidence to justify your continued detention, they must submit the evidence to a prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees with the police, he/she has up to 24 hours to apply to a judge for an initial 10-day detention order to allow the police to continue their investigation. The prosecutor can request a second 10-day detention period to continue the investigation, if necessary. If there is insufficient evidence, the case may be dropped.

In exceptional circumstances, this period can be extended by a further five days for a limited number of very specific offences, bringing the total detention to 28 days from the time of arrest. You should proactively monitor the progress of your case and discuss the length of your detention with your attorney.

At any detention hearing (to determine whether you will be detained longer or released) you will usually appear before a judge and may be asked to testify on your own behalf.

By the end of this detention period, the prosecutor must either apply for a criminal prosecution or release you. Time limits for the duration of detention apply to every suspicion of a crime. If you are suspected of more than one crime, you can legally be released at the end of your prison term and then re-arrested for another crime, resulting in a longer total time spent in prison before being charged.

For minor offenses, there have been instances where a sincere apology and offering redress to a crime victim has resulted in early release. Denying even the slightest charge against you will generally result in a charge and a prison sentence while the police conduct the investigation to the full.You should ask your attorney how these options apply to your circumstances.

There is no bail before charges are filed in the Japanese legal system. Once indicted, nonresident foreigners are rarely granted bail.

The Criminal Trial

If the prosecutor considers that the investigation has revealed sufficient evidence that you have committed a crime, you will be brought before a judge for formal charges. Prosecutors in Japan generally do not take a case to court unless they are confident they can win. About three-quarters of all cases are dropped before charges are filed. Statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Justice show that the conviction rate in Japan between 2002 and 2011 was more than 99 percent after indictment.

There are two main forms of criminal prosecution in Japan: formal trials and summary trials. In the case of serious crimes that are punishable by imprisonment, you face a formal trial even if you confess your guilt. Summary trials are limited to minor offenses with fines not exceeding ¥1,000,000, an admission of guilt and victim compensation (if applicable). In summary proceedings, your sentence will be imposed within 14 days of the indictment.

When the statutory punishment for a crime is not severe, a single judge can preside over the trial. Otherwise, a three-person committee is usually required. In very serious cases, the lay judge orsaiban-insystem is used. Six members of the general public are randomly selected and assigned to sit alongside the panel of three judges. Saiban-in trials are generally conducted for serious crimes, including manslaughter, robbery resulting in death or injury, drug offenses, arson of occupied buildings, and kidnapping for ransom. You should ask your solicitor which system applies to your circumstances.

At the beginning of the court proceedings, you have the opportunity to express your views and to lodge an objection. Trials focus on the examination of evidence (including testimonies), and hearsay evidence is generally not admissible.

Duration of a trial and a conviction

If a case is not resolved at a hearing, additional hearings are scheduled between several days and several weeks later.Exams can take a long time, depending on the complexity of the case. If you plead guilty to a minor crime, the case could be resolved in a hearing or two as long as the prosecutor can provide supporting evidence. If your case is the subject of a saiban-in proceeding, trial sessions will be held on consecutive days.

After hearing the closing arguments of the defense and the prosecution, the judges set a date for the delivery of the verdict and the verdict.

If there is reasonable doubt as to your guilt under Japanese law, the presiding judge(s) must acquit you and you must be compensated by the Japanese government for your detention. An acquittal does not necessarily guarantee your release, as prosecutors can appeal. If the prosecutor appeals, you can be detained until the next hearing.

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If you're found guilty of a relatively minor offense, you can get a suspended sentence of between one and five years (which means you don't have to go to jail). If you are not convicted of another crime in Japan during this time, your sentence will be vacated. If you are convicted of another offense in Japan during the suspension, you must serve both the original sentence and the new sentence.

If you receive a custodial sentence (i.e. not a suspended sentence), you must pay any applicable fines and/or serve your sentence in Japan.Prisoners normally receive partial credit for time served prior to sentencing, but this is not an automatic right and is at the judge's discretion. You usually spend the rest of your sentence in prison doing forced labor for which you receive a nominal wage. If your sentence includes both a fine and imprisonment, you can use that wage to pay your fine. They will be held until the fine is paid. If you fail to pay the fine, you must serve an additional one-day detention period for every 5,000 to 10,000 yen you owe.

In some cases, additional fines orTsuichoukinare imposed. Designed to confiscate all proceeds of a crime, Tsuichoukin cannot be redeemed through wages while in prison. If you have been fined for a crime for personal financial gain, you should consult your attorney to find out how to pay the fine.

Parole is rarely grantedand usually not until at least two-thirds of the sentence has been served. You should discuss parole options with your attorney.


A first appeal (Diagonal) can be requested in writing by the defense or the prosecution within 14 days of your conviction.If the defense appeals, the Supreme Court will not impose a higher sentence. If the prosecution appeals, the High Court can increase the sentence. A High Court has the power to set aside a decision of a lower court, alter a judgment or refer a case back to the lower court for retrial. Prisoners who appeal are held in the prison facility closest to the Court of Appeal. Before you appeal, you should ask your attorney if you can be transferred from one detention center to another.

High court decisions can also be appealed to the Supreme Court of Japan on constitutional issues. This second appeal (jokoku) considers the application of law and procedure in the decisions of the lower courts and not the facts of the case. The presence of witnesses or defendants is not required.


Whether you are deported for a crime depends on your residence status (e.g. your visa), your sentence and the type of crime committed. If you are due for deportation, you will be held at a local immigration center after you are released by the police or prison. A deportation order will be issued within 60 days of the start of this detention pending deportation. If you have strong ties to Japan, particularly a spouse or children residing in Japan with valid status, you may be granted a special residency permit in lieu of a deportation order.Detention is not an excuse for exceeding the length of your current residency status.

If you receive a deportation order, you can be deported within a few weeks at your own expense. If you cannot fund your own flight, you will be held at the immigration center until you receive financial support from family or friends.

Transfer to a Canadian prison

Canada has a Criminal Transfer Treaty with Japan that allows Canadians convicted of crimes committed in Japan to serve their sentences in a Canadian penitentiary if both the Canadian and Japanese governments agree to the transfer. Transfers are not granted automatically.A request for transfer can only be made once you have been convicted and convicted and no court proceedings are pending.

At least six months of your sentence must remain at the time you submit your transfer request.Japanese authorities require at least a third of your sentence to be served in Japan before transfer will be considered. You are not eligible for transfer until that minimum portion of your sentence has been served in Japan and any outstanding fines or redress imposed as part of the sentence have been settled in money or labor compensation. It usually takes longer to process a referral after approval has been given and a third of your sentence has been served.

You should consult your lawyer if you wish to apply for a transfer. Also, ask your consular officer for general details on sending money from Japan to Canada. For more information on transfer requests, see the brochureA Guide for Canadians Detained Abroad.

Petitions for clemency in death penalty cases

In Japan, penalties for serious crimes such as murder can include the death penalty. If you have been charged or convicted of a crime that carries the death penalty, speak to your attorney.

Related Links

  • A Guide for Canadians Detained Abroad
  • Bon Voyage But… Essential Information for Canadian Travelers
  • Travel Advice and Advice for Japan
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What is the overview of Japan's criminal justice system? ›

Japan belongs to an inquisitory system of the criminal process. Therefore, a judge oversees the proceedings and also determines the guilt and the sentence of the accused. The citizen lay judges, as well as professional judges, are allowed to put forth questions to defendants, witnesses, and victims during the trial.

What kind of justice system does Japan have? ›

The modern Japanese legal system is based on the civil law system, following the model of 19th Century European legal systems, especially the legal codes of Germany and France. Japan established its legal system when imperial rule to Japan was restored in 1868 as part of the Meiji Restoration.

How does the Japanese court system work? ›

They are not juries but "lay judges" (裁判員 saiban-in) working side by side with the "professional judges". Typically, there are six lay judges and three professional judges for one case. The decision has to be by majority and include at least one of the professional judges.

What is the policing system of Japan? ›

Law enforcement in Japan is provided mainly by prefectural police under the oversight of the National Police Agency. The National Police Agency is administered by the National Public Safety Commission, ensuring that Japan's police are an apolitical body and free of direct central government executive control.

What is criminal justice system Short answer? ›

Solution: Criminal justice system is the 'body of law' or 'Court' regulating the inquiry into whether a person has violated criminal law or not.

How are criminals treated in Japan? ›

The different kinds of punishment for committing a crime in Japan are shown above, from the lightest punishment to the heaviest. These punishments are petty fines, detention, fines, confinement, imprisonment, and the death penalty. In practice, detention is rarely actually given as a punishment.


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