Arrests in Japan
The following is general information only. For detailed legal information or advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact a lawyer.
Japan's legal processes can be quite different to those in Australia. Arrest in Japan usually involves a lengthy stay in a police detention centre. Even if charged and given a suspended sentence, or if a deportation order is made, an Australian arrested in Japan could expect up to 2-3 months detention. This can have a dramatic effect on current and future employment, family relationships and financial circumstances.
Japanese police do not allow consular officers to visit outside of normal public visiting hours. Visits are not permitted on public holidays or weekends.
Under Japanese law, persons suspected of a crime can be detained for 23 days without charge. The length of detention, up to the maximum period, is at the discretion of the public prosecutor and subject to the approval of local courts. For more information on the Japanese legal system please visit the Japan Federation of Bar Association's website.
Legal aid or court appointed lawyers
All arrestees in Japan can receive one free visit from a duty lawyer (toban bengoshi). Duty lawyers will explain local law and procedures. They can also contact the arrestees' family. The duty lawyer system is administered by the Japan Federation of Bar Association and you can find out more information online. Arrestees may also be eligible for a court-appointed defence lawyer if detention is extended after an initial three day detention period or, in the case of minor criminal matters after charges are brought. Eligibility is a matter for the relevant authorities but, in general, if owing to financial difficulty arrestees are unable to pay for a lawyer in a criminal trial, the court can appoint them a lawyer at no expense. You can find out more on Japan Legal Support Centre (Houterasu) website.
List of local lawyers
We provide lists of local English speaking lawyers around Japan. Neither the Australian Government, nor the Australian Embassy, can accept any responsibility whatsoever for the competence or otherwise of any of the practitioners listed, nor for any costs involved.
Useful information regarding local laws in Japan can also be found on our Travel Advice. For more information on what consular staff in Australia and overseas can do to assist prisoners and their families please read our brochure: Arrested or Jailed Overseas.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can arrestees expect to be detained without charge?
Experience to date is that they will be detained for the maximum period (23 days).
Can arrestees receive visitors?
Yes, unless they are subject to communication restrictions in which case they can only meet with their legal representatives or consular officers. In Japan, the Public Prosecutor can seek court approval to limit visiting and communication privileges while in detention. This is often influenced by the nature of the alleged offence. A lawyer can provide more detail.
Visitor regulations vary but generally exclude visits on weekends, public holidays and outside visiting hours Monday to Friday. Visitors may be required to schedule in advance and visits might be cancelled due to public prosecutor interviews, court appearances, and other police investigation activities. They may also need permission to speak in a language other than Japanese and if necessary make private interpretation arrangements. Visits are usually supervised.
Can arrestees make or receive telephone calls from detention?
How often can consular officers visit an Australian arrested in Japan?
We will visit as soon as possible after notification of detention and once permission is received from the local authorities. We would normally aim to visit once during the first 23 days but timing of this visit may depend on the severity of the charge, location and consular staff resources. Arrestees will appear before the prosecutor a number of times in the first weeks of detention. Police may also require arrestees to visit various locations associated with gathering evidence. This can cause delays while we seek necessary approvals for consular officers to visit.
If an arrestee is charged, we will establish a schedule of regular visits (e.g. once every three to six months).
Can arrestees buy supplementary food and other necessities in detention?
Usually yes, depending on local police station or detention centre arrangements. Any purchases will usually need to be paid for in cash.
Can arrestees see a doctor in detention?
Can family or friends send a care package?
Check with a lawyer. Many police stations will not permit detainees English-language reading or writing materials and have strict rules regarding clothes.
How much is a private lawyer in Japan?
Lawyers are expensive and can start with a retainer of AUD 5,000 or more if the case goes to trial.
How good are court appointed defence lawyers and is it better to engage a private lawyer instead?
We are unable to comment on the competence of any lawyer. Because of expensive fees, most defendants opt for a court appointed lawyer at no cost. If defendants do choose a court appointed lawyer, they will need to accept that the lawyer may not be available on call and speak only limited English.
The lawyer speaks little English and I am having difficulty understanding. Can consular officers help interpret?
No. The court appointed lawyer should be able to arrange (Japanese state funded) interpreting services and the arrestee should discuss this directly with them. If satisfactory arrangements cannot be made, arrestees may wish to engage an English-speaking lawyer or interpreter privately.
My lawyer has suggested I make a payment to the victim of my alleged offence. Why?
Assuming responsibility and making restitution by way of apology and a payment of money to restore the alleged victim's feelings is common in Japan. You should ask you lawyer to provide more detail.
What are the Japanese deportation procedures?
Deportees are transferred into the custody of Japanese Immigration following completion of court proceedings. Processing to departure usually takes between seven and ten working days unless objections to the deportation order are made or an appeal is lodged. Deportees will be required to provide tickets or the funds to cover the cost of airfares home. Those unable to arrange funds will remain in Immigration detention for an extended period, often over a year. We understand that a record of deportation is made and return to Japan is barred for a period determined by court edict or circumstances applying to the case.
- Japan Federation of Bar Associations
- Japan Legal Support Centre (Houterasu)
- United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) (information on criminal justice in Japan)
- Police Detention Administration in Japan (PDF) (National Police Agency publication)
- Penal Institutions in Japan (PDF) (Ministry of Justice publication)
- Information for Prison Inmates (PDF) (Japan Federation of Bar Associations publication)
- International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme (administered in Australia by the Attorney-General's Department)