Japanese Legal Research Guide

Guide de recherche : Droit japonais

Author: Shiho Yamamoto
Jurisdiction: Japan

I. Introduction

There is a greater variety of Japanese legal resources available on the internet today than in the past, especially if one has access to paid services such as LexisNexis or Westlaw. However, there are certain factors a non-native Japanese researcher will have to consider when evaluating English sources of Japanese Law.

II. Source of Law

After the Meiji Restoration (1868), the Japanese government adopted Western countries’ laws in order to establish a modernized legal system. Japan was mainly influenced by civil law legal systems, particularly by the French and German laws with a strong focus on the latter. After World War II, Japan was strongly influenced by the American legal system and adopted many forms of it. The American legal system specifically influenced Japan’s Constitution, its Code of Criminal Procedure, its Securities and Exchange law (now Financial Instruments and Exchange law) as well as its Anti-Monopoly Act.

Japan is a civil law legal system which is based on codified law. As such, judicial precedent is not legally binding. However, judges do consider precedent, especially on any pertinent decisions made by the Supreme Court, thereby making judicial precedent essential.

The current Japanese legal system is based on the six codes called “Roppo,” which are (1) Constitution; (2) Civil Code; (3) Criminal Code; (4) Commercial Code; (5) Code of Civil Procedure; and (6) Code of Criminal Procedure. Legislative power is entirely vested in the National Diet of Japan. Under the current constitution, the Emperor approves statutory law as a formality and does not the authority to veto or otherwise disapprove a law which has been passed by the Diet.

III. Japanese Legal System

Article 76(1) of the Japanese Constitution provides that the entire juridical power is vested in the Supreme Court as a highest court to make a final judicial decision. Judicial power is vested in inferior courts by law. Pursuant to judicature laws, the Japanese legal system is comprised of the following five types of courts: the Supreme Court, High Courts, District Courts, Family Courts, and Summary Courts.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in Japan and comprised of a Chef Justice and fourteen justices. A final appeal to the Supreme Court can be heard by the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court, which is comprised of all the justices, or one of the Petty Benches of the Supreme Court, which is comprised by five justices.

IV. Japanese Legal Procedure

In an effort to render a fair and just judgment, the Japanese legal system adopts a three-instance trial system which allows a party, if they so wish, to appeal a decision three times in principle. In this three instance trial system, a court that is in the position to review a previously determined case is called a “Higher/Superior court” while the court which previously decided on the case is called a “Lower Court.” Each court independently exercises jurisdiction, and Lower Courts are not under control and supervision of Higher Courts. However, Higher Courts have authority to determine whether a lower court’s decision was right or wrong should there be an appeal. The Higher Court’s decision has precedent and thus is binding over a lower court’s decision but only with respect to that particular appeal.

V. Online Legal Sources Currently Available