2 Procedure in a family court

(1) Investigation in a family court

A family court is required to investigate any case received from public prosecutors, etc., which it can order a family court research law clerk to investigate.

(2) Classification at juvenile classification homes

A family court may refer the juveniles to a juvenile classification home and request a classification of their predisposition based on the decision for protective detention if it is deemed necessary for a hearing to be held. In that case juvenile classification homes accommodate the referred juveniles and classify their predispositions based on the expertise they have in medicine, psychology, pedagogy, sociology, and other specialized fields in order to contribute to hearings, etc. to be held in family courts. As of April 1, 2011, there were 52 juvenile classification homes nationwide (including one branch home).

(3) Hearings, etc. in a family court

Based on the results of an investigation a family court refers the case to a prefectural governor or the director of a child guidance center before making the decision on either dismissing the case without a hearing or initiating the hearing process.

Hearings in family courts typically involve a single judge. However, a collegiate court body of judges can conduct them by a decision. The juveniles or their guardians can assign an attendant but only with the permission of the family court if the attendant is not a lawyer.

Hearings are closed to the public but family courts can allow victims, etc. to attend the hearings of certain serious cases upon request but only when it is deemed appropriate and not likely to disrupt the healthy development of the juvenile.

In addition, a family court can also decide to make a public prosecutor involved in (attend) the hearing if deemed necessary in fact finding concerning the delinquency of a juvenile offender case involving specific serious offenses. In this case, the family court must assign a lawyer as his attendant if the juvenile does not have one.

A family court can also place a juvenile under tentative supervision, and assign a family court research law clerk to directly supervise the juvenile for a specific period of time if deemed necessary in thereby determining the appropriate protective measures.

After the hearing the family court will then make the decision of dismissal if it deems it impossible or unnecessary to place the juvenile under protective measures. If a family court does deem taking measures provided for by the Child Welfare Act to be appropriate, however, it refers the case to the prefectural governor or the director of a child guidance center. If a case involves an offense that is punishable by the death penalty or imprisonment with or without work the family court refers the case to a public prosecutor if a criminal disposition is deemed appropriate. However, a family court is required, in principle, to refer any case involving a serious offense committed by a juvenile aged 16 or older to a public prosecutor. In any other case a family court is required to make the decision to place the juvenile under one of the following protective measures: probation; commitment to a children’s self-reliance support facility/foster home (limited to juveniles younger than 18); or commitment to a juvenile training school (generally limited to juveniles aged 12 or older).

The juveniles concerned, or their legal representative or attendant may appeal against a decision of protective measures to a high court only with grounds to insist that there was a violation of a related act or ordinance which should have affected the decision, or that there was a grave error in the fact-finding, or that the decision was seriously unfair. The public prosecutor can request a high court to accept the case as an appeal against the fact found by a family court as the delinquency only when it was a case in which the family court decided to make a public prosecutor attend the hearing and also when there was a violation of a related act or ordinance which should have affected the fact-finding or a grave error in finding fact, of the delinquency.