2 Procedure in family courts

(1) Investigation by family courts

A family court is required to investigate any case referred to it. It can order a family court investigating officer to investigate a case.

(2) Assessment by juvenile classification homes

By a ruling, a family court may refer a juvenile to a juvenile classification home and request an assessment if it is necessary for a hearing. In such case, the juvenile is committed to a juvenile classification home, and the home assesses the juvenile based on knowledge and techniques it has in medicine, psychology, pedagogy, sociology and other expertise and conducts necessary observation and protection of the juvenile.

(3) Hearings in family courts

Based on result of an investigation, a family court shall issue a ruling for commencement or non-commencement of a hearing or other proceeding.

A juvenile or his/her custodians can appoint an attendant, but they need permission of a family court to appoint someone other than an attorney at law as an attendant.

Hearings are closed to the public, but a family court may allow victims of certain serious cases to observe a hearing upon their request if the court finds it appropriate and unlikely to hinder sound development of a juvenile.

A family court may, by a ruling, have a public prosecutor participate in a hearing for a case concerning a juvenile offender involved in designated serious crimes when the court finds that participation of a public prosecutor in the hearing is necessary for fact-finding regarding delinquency. In such case, if the juvenile has no attendant who is an attorney at law, the court shall appoint one.

When it is found impossible or unnecessary to place a juvenile under protective measures as a result of a hearing, a family court shall issue a ruling not to subject the juvenile to protective measures. When it is found appropriate to take the measures prescribed in the Child Welfare Act (Act No. 164 of 1947), a family court shall refer a case to a prefectural governor or a child consultation center’s director. When a person is found to be 20 years of age or older, a family court shall refer a case to a public prosecutor.

A family court shall, by a ruling, refer a case punishable by the death penalty or imprisonment with or without work to a public prosecutor if disposition of the case in criminal procedure is found appropriate as a result of an investigation or a hearing. If a juvenile is 16 years of age or older and has committed a specific serious act, a family court, in principle, needs to render a ruling to refer a case to a public prosecutor.

Except in the cases mentioned above, a family court shall, by a ruling, subject a juvenile to protective measures. Protective measures include placing the juvenile under probation by a probation office, referring the juvenile to a children’s self-reliance support facility, to a foster home (limited to juveniles younger than 18 years of age), or to a juvenile training school (generally limited to juveniles aged 12 or older).

A juvenile or a legal representative or attendant of the juvenile may lodge an appeal against a ruling imposing protective measures only on the grounds of a violation of laws and regulations that affected the ruling, a serious error in fact-finding or substantial inappropriateness of the measures. In the case where a public prosecutor participated in a hearing by a ruling of a family court, the public prosecutor may file a request to a high court for acceptance of the case as the court of second instance only on the grounds of a violation of laws and regulations that affected the ruling or a serious error in fact-finding.