The 1947 constitution provides for the complete independence of the judiciary. All judicial power is vested in the courts. The system consists of the supreme court, eight regional higher courts, district courts in each of the prefectures, and 438 summary courts. In addition, there are family courts, on the same level as the district courts, to adjudicate family conflicts and complaints such as partitions of estates, marriage annulments, and juvenile protection cases.
The supreme court consists of a chief justice and 14 other justices. The chief justice is appointed by the emperor on designation by the cabinet; the other justices, by cabinet appointment. All appointments are subject to popular review at the first general election following appointment and every 10 years thereafter in public referendum. Judges of the lesser courts also are appointed by the cabinet from lists of persons nominated by the supreme court. Their term of office is limited to 10 years, with the privilege of reappointment.
The supreme court is the court of last resort for determining the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation, or official act that is challenged during the regular hearing of a lawsuit. Abstract questioning of a law is prohibited and thus there is no judicial review. The constitution affords criminal defendants a right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial tribunal. There is no right to a trial by jury. The constitution requires a judicial warrant issued by a judge for each search or seizure. Japan accepts compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice with reservation.