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Features - Update to Japanese Law via the Internet

By Dr. Makoto Ibusuki, Published on February 15, 2002

Dr. Makoto Ibusuki is Professor of Law, Department of Law and Policy, Kagoshima University, Japan.

Editor's note:  This article is an update to the Japanese Law via the Internet, (published December 18, 2000).  There are additions, changes for some Web site addresses, as well as some deletions.  These additions and changes are indicated by        (yellow background color) for easy identification.


Table of Contents

Introduction
Basic Structure of Japanese Legal System
Finding Japanese Legislation via the Internet
Finding Japanese Cases via the Internet
Finding Governmental Resources via the Internet
Secondary Sources
Legal Research Guides
Conclusion

Introduction

In 2001, Japanese law resources on the web underwent a big change. This year was epoch-making for legal research via the net in Japan because of the launch of three new official sites: the consolidated code database, the Supreme Court judgment database and the Gazette database. They are useful for researchers to search Japanese law.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the limited web resource to people who want to get Japanese legal information through the web. Needless to say, for getting the resource in Japanese, the users in foreign countries must set up the computer for reading it by installing Japanese font program.

This article does not deal with such technical and technological issues. So, it is strongly recommended for each user to refer to the web resources for setting up the computer accessible for Japanese.

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Basic Structure of Japanese Legal System

Historically, the Japanese legal modernization was based on European legal system. At the beginning of Meiji era, the system of Europe was the model of the Japanese court system and legal system. German and French law and their respective judicial systems were the typical example used for the Japanese model.

However, after the Second World War, there was major legal reform. Constitutional law and criminal procedure law, which are most important for the protection of human rights, were revised by modeling American law. So, it is very difficult to say whether the roots of the Japanese legal system come from the continental system or Anglo-American system. It might be better to call the Japanese legal system as hybrid of these two systems.

Japanese Constitutional law was adopted in 1946 after the Second World War. It includes the bill of rights. There are thirty-one articles related to human rights. It also provided for three independent branches of government for the country; Legislative, Judicial and Governmental powers.

In Japan, there are two parliaments; Upper diet (Sangi-In) and lower diet (Shuugi-In).

The Japanese court system is simple because it is not a federal system. There is one Supreme Court, eight high courts and fifty district and family courts. For small crimes (punishable by fine or lighter punishment) and civil suits (involving claims not exceeding 900,000 yen), our four forty eight summary courts have jurisdiction.

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Finding Japanese Legislation via the Internet

The Government Printing Office enables Internet users to check on new legislation at the site of the Legislative Bureau, House of Council.

Kanpo (Gazettes) includes new legislation updated each week via PDF file. Accumulated data can be searched at the Government Printing Office. Dai-ichi Houki Pub. maintains the current debate schedule and full text data of some bills. Recently, the Japanese Diet started a database service containing minutes of the proceedings.

In April 2001, the Ministry of General Affairs launched their consolidated code database "Hourei Date Teikyo System" (Current Law Database). It is the first case in Japan to produce consolidated code on the web for the public without a fee.  The data comes to the web two or three months after enacting a new law or amending a code on the diet.  The database includes over six thousand laws, regulations, directions and orders from the ministry.

On the other hand, there have been some private sites for providing law text free of charge on the Internet. There are two types of such web sites.  One is producing its own data on the site and the other is producing links to law text pages on the another sites which contain law text. Some sites of law text are a hybrid of their own data type and links.

Houko (meaning law storehouse) is a typical site of the former type, containing a word index, a field index and a chronological index. The viewer can search on the site. Aidai Roppou (meaning basic statutes from Aichi Univ.) is a typical site of the latter type. Although the site name refers to "basic laws", their links are never limited to basic sources, and covers wide area. This site also serves users who wish to search the full text of the data.

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Finding Japanese Cases via the Internet

In 2001, the Japanese Supreme Court started their service to produce full-text data of official case reports which have been published since 1947. It also has a full-text search capability on the site. Some famous and old Supreme Court cases have been translated into English and are available on this site. A private site, Kihon-page (meaning basic cases), also provides Supreme Court cases, which have been published in the Official Court Report (Saibansho-jihou) since 1995. The resources on their web for Supreme Court cases before 1995 are limited.

There are still no sites for lower courts' cases. However, on July 1999, the Supreme Court site started to provide lower court decisions of intellectual property cases and labor law cases. They also started the database of both legal fields after 1969 on August 2000.

Aidai Hanrei is also the useful resources listing famous and important cases in main legal fields; constitutional law, criminal law, civil law, commercial law, criminal procedure law and civil procedure law.

Some private sites provide decisions related to specific fields. For examples, Mr. Ueno's site includes copyright case judgments, and Prof. Sonoda's site provides cyber-porn case judgments. The site of the Tax Law Association also provides a set of tax law precedents.

Some publishers in Japan distribute compact discs containing cases that have been published in case reports in print form and they also support online databases similar to Westlaw and LEXIS. For example, TKC is a full text database of decisions published since 1875 covering over 20,000 cases.

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Finding Governmental Resources via the Internet

In May 1999, the Japanese Diet passed the Freedom of Information Act. Before the legislation was enacted, many governmental sites had started to provide their information via the Internet. On the web, there are numerous resources for government information. The best way to search for the information is to locate and check on the Clearing System. This site is a meta-search engine designed for searching the information contained in the central government sites and local government sites. Some useful web resources are introduced here. Japanese Crime Statistics is provided at http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/category_14.html. The Japanese Census is available at http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/category_01.html.

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Secondary Sources

Legal Articles

In fact, it is difficult to find Japanese law journal articles on the Web. Few Japanese law reviews appears on the Internet. The Ritsumeikan Law Review is an exception. While some scholars provide their articles to the public on their homepages privately, most of the articles in Japanese law reviews are published only in print form.

On the other hand, there are some index sites for law articles, which have been published in major law reviews and legal magazines. At Kobe Gakuin University, an index of law reviews is provided by the Reference Room of Kobe Gakuin University, School of Law. However, the articles contained in commercial magazines are not included in this index. For social security law and labor law, the Ohara Institute at Hosei University provides a database for the articles in these fields. At the site of Prof. Nishitani of Hiroshima University, a database of Japanese articles concerning International Law is provided.

Legal News

Unfortunately, in Japan, there is no site that provides legal news. With respect to specific issues, some news sites distribute news stories. The page called Pursuit of Cases on the Internet, produced by Mainichi News, provides many stories concerning the Internet, i.e. cyber-pornography, online gambling, hacking, electronic commerce, software issues, copyright issues, domain issues and security issues. Major Japanese national newspaper companies, Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi News, Yomiuri News and Nihon Keizai Shimbun distribute their stories via the net. Asahi Shimbun also has a full text database for their news distributed since 1986.

For English paper, The Japan Times, Nikkei Net and Mainichi Daily News are distributing legal news in English.

Legal Publisher

Some legal publisher started their web pages and provides their book catalogues; Nihon Hyouron Sha, Yuhikaku, Dai-ichi-Houki, Hanrei Times and Shin-Nihon-Houki.

At the moment, no publisher supports their service through the web, but only provides contents of back volumes for journals.

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Legal Research Guides

As portal sites, some excellent pages are recommended. The first one is Legal Resources for Law and Cyberspace, produced by Atty. Hisamichi Okamura. It is a comprehensive link page for law materials on the web, including a topic of index. It contains links to sites about all aspects of Japanese law.

The second one is Kanazawa University's index, which has long tradition on the Japanese web.

For English sites, Luke's page, Japanese Law Links, is useful for Japanese legal materials. DIAL page for Japanese law text from Australasian Legal Information Institute is also helpful to find English text of Japanese law. Senrei and Japanese Legal Research are also excellent guides for non-native users. Needless to say, the reliability of these English text sites should be considered because the law texts could be changed and/or amended after their web publication.

As guidance for legal research using Japanese law materials, Fundamental Legal Research: Legal Research Room, maintained by Ms. Mariko Ishikawa, is well known. This is a reliable site as a reference for people who wish to do research about Japanese law. The viewer can obtain knowledge of how to research various Japanese legal resources, e.g. law texts, cases, law articles and government documents. This site is also very useful as a link site for law-related web resources in Japan. It has complete links to all Japanese University law departments and all bar association sites.

Professor Saito's page is a competitor of the Legal Research Room. It covers may functional ways for legal research of Japanese law resources and contains explanation for each research tool.

For assisting web based legal research, "Houritsugaku-no-tameno-Internet" (Law on the Net; Nihon-Hyouron-Sha, Tokyo, Japan 2000) is recommended as the best tool. This is the first guidebook in Japan for legal research via the Net. It gives a comprehensive guide for Internet users who are looking for law materials on the net. It is a collaborative product by Prof. Yonemaru (Ritsumeikan Univ., Kyoto) and myself. The revised edition was published in January 2000. It includes a CD-ROM with every URL for the convenience of the users.

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Conclusion

As you see, Japanese legal sites are underdeveloped at this moment. Although this country is the a leader in distributing personal computers in the world, the lower courts are not well equipped and wired and therefore do not distribute their judgments through the web.

It is difficult to predict when we can access the entire Japanese legal data through the Internet. However, if we could not do so in the future, the Information Technology Revolution would not be achieved well because legal resources must be the fundamental soft infrastructure for the civilized, modern society. The web resources in each country would be best measured by evaluating whether a specific country can be such a society or not.

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