Criminal Justice System in Japan

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The Japan’s criminal justice system is made up of the police, government prosecutors’ offices, courts, and correctional organs. These organs work closely with each other through frequent consultations to accomplish the common goal of limiting and controlling crime.


Police serve as an agency that is mandated to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens and also maintain peace and order. Police are required to carry out their duties efficiently and in line with the democratic principles that reflects the ideals of the Japanese constitution. Japanese police are guided by two principles namely; the democratic administration and supremacy of law which conform to the laws enacted in 1947 and later amended in 1954.

The Present Police Organization comprises of the National Public Safety Commission, National Police Agency and the Prefectural Police.  Police function as provided in the law includes “protection of life, person and property of individuals; prevention, suppression and detection of crime and apprehension of suspects; control of traffic; and other functions necessary to maintain public peace and order” (Hayes, 1985).  Here, detection of crime and suspects apprehension relate directly to criminal justice or to be more precise criminal investigation.

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Criminal Investigation

As mentioned earlier Crime detection forms one of the foundational duties of the police as required by the Japanese law. All the three police departments maintain officers who are specialised in crime detection. These officers engage in cases that demand large scale or extended investigation. Additionally these officers take part in cases requiring special investigative techniques (Araki, 1985).

Criminal investigation just like other police activities must go hand in hand with the provisions of Japanese law. Here, the Code of criminal procedure is provided to guide the procedures of criminal investigation that include arrest and other general criminal proceedings. 


The prosecution department is composed of the following offices:

  • Supreme Public Prosecutors Office led by the Prosecutor-General
  • High Public Prosecutors Offices (Eight in number) led by a Superintending Prosecutor 
  • District Public Prosecutors Offices (fifty in number) led by a Chief Prosecutor
  • 203 branches, and 438 Local Public Prosecutors Offices consisting mainly of Assistant Public Prosecutors

Each district public prosecutor office maintains ten public prosecutors on average. The smallest office will have five public prosecutors, and the largest about 200. Each of these offices will in addition host one chief and deputy Chief prosecutor whose duty is to supervise investigation, trials and prosecutions.  In the case of the small offices the work of investigation, indictment and trials fall in the hand of one individual. As opposed to this arrangement, large offices have two different public prosecutors working either in Trial Department or Investigation Department also referred to as “Criminal Affairs Department.”

The different positions of public prosecutor offices match to a related position in the courts. The duties carried out by the public prosecutors include: instituting prosecution, investigation, demanding proper application of law by courts, overseeing execution of rulings and related matters in their jurisdiction (Reichel, 2013).

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The Japanese Supreme Court and its associate inferior courts operate based on powers articulated in Article 76 of the Japanese Constitution (Hirano, 1998). All the courts are integrated into one national judicial system. Japan court system is comprised of 5 types of courts: 

  • Supreme Court
  • High Court
  • District Court
  • Family Court
  • Summary Court

Apart from the judges and assistant judges the other officers working with the judiciary include; court clerks, bailiffs, stenographers, clerical officers, etc.

  • The Supreme Court

It is the highest court in the Japanese judicial system headed by the chief justices assisted by other fourteen justices. The Supreme Court maintains one Grand Bench and three petit Benches. The former Bench consists of all justices while the latter is made up of five justices.  All cases first go through the Petit Benches and can be referred to the Grand Bench upon being determined that it must be adjudicated by the Grand Bench (Watson, 2016).

  • High Court

High Courts preside over Koso appeals filed in disagreement to ruling made by the District, Family and summary courts with regard to criminal cases. High Court cases are typically heard by collegiate body comprised of three judges. In the case of some special cases like insurrection, the proceedings are presided over by a five –judge court.

  • District Court

District Courts serve as first point for addressing all cases except for offences requiring lighter punishment or fine which are exclusively reserved for Summary courts, Family Courts, and High courts. Majority of the cases handled in District Courts are presided over by a single judge. However, the Japanese law provides that all criminal cases thought to attract a possible death sentence, life imprisonment or more than one year imprisonment be handled 

  • Family Court

The family court’s primarily handle cases involving family disputes and juvenile law breaking.  In addition to these cases, the Family court has jurisdiction over cases of adults posing threat over welfare of juveniles.

To ensure the judicial independence, the Japan Constitution has made a number of provisions important principles in the government. Top among these provisions is vesting in the Supreme courts and related courts all the judicial powers. Such is the case that no final judicial power is held by the executive.


Japan’s criminal justice system provides correction services for both the adults and juvenile through Correction Bureau of the Ministry of Justice. Detention houses are constantly monitored to guarantee the rights of inmates to access legal counsel without any hindrance and also to ensure they get a fair trial (Outline of criminal justice in Japan, 2012). 


The Rehabilitation Bureau which also falls under the Ministry of Justice is the one responsible for the overall rehabilitation services. While carrying out its mandate, the bureau handles policy making relating to probation and parole, supervision of Regional parole Board (RPB) and concerned officers, staffing and transfer of probation officers (Ferdinand, 1994).

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Probation office is the main organisation charged with the duty to implement community based treatment. Individual probation offices are headed by a single Director of Probation Office. The major roles played by these offices with regard to adult and juvenile cases are:

  • Supervision of probationers and parolees
  • Investigation and application for pardons,
  • support of ex-offenders expressing interest for  such services 
  • supervision of halfway houses and volunteer probation officers and 
  • Advancement of crime prevention undertakings in the community, 
  • commendation and identification of volunteer probation officers,
  • Training for workers 
  • Amendment of inmates’ relationships with family and related social settings preceding their early release from juvenile training schools and prisons

While that is the duties of the probation officers, the Regional parole Board (RPB) undertakes the following.

  • Come up with decision of release on parole on offenders
  • Make decisions on termination of the indeterminate punishment of a parolee previously sentenced to imprisonment as a juvenile
  • Cancellation of parole,
  • Make decisions on provisional suspension of the probationary supervision of an offender and addition of parole duration.

Different regions play host to different number of RPB which customarily vary from 3to 12. Majority vote typically form the basis of any panel decision.

To further assist in the management of rehabilitation services, the Ministry of justice came up with the National Offenders Rehabilitation Commission that is entitled to perform the following functions (Terrill, 2016).

  • Advice the minister on matters regarding commutation of sentence, special pardon, remission of implementation of sentence, and reinstatement of Privileges and rights to particular persons
  • Scrutinize and evaluate the judgement of the RPB once they receive a complaint from a parolee or a probationer.

The commission comprises of five members, all appointed by the Minister of Justice and approved by Diet. 

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  1. Araki, N. (1985). The Flow of Criminal Cases in the Japanese Criminal Justice System: The Flow of Criminal Cases in the Japanese Criminal Justice System. Crime & Delinquency, 31(4), 605-627. doi:10.1177/0011128785031004009
  2. Ferdinand, T. N. (1994). Japanese Criminal Justice: Warts and all. International Criminal Justice Review, 4(1), 72-79. doi:10.1177/105756779400400106
  3. Hayes, K. M. (1985). The Japanese police system today: An American perspectives. Journal of Criminal Justice, 13(3), 297-298. doi:10.1016/0047-2352(85)90108-4
  4. Hirano, T. (1998). Japanese court system.
  5. Outline of criminal justice in Japan. (2012). Tokyo: Supreme Court of Japan.
  6. Reichel, P. L. (2013). Comparative criminal justice systems: a topical approach. Boston: Pearson.
  7. Terrill, R. J. (2016). World criminal justice systems: a comparative survey. New York: Routledge.
  8. Watson, A. (2016). Disquiet About Japanese Criminal Justice and a Revival of Interest in Juries. Popular Participation in Japanese Criminal Justice, 35-52. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-35077-6_3
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