June 29, 2015
Source: The Japan News
The Supreme Court has decided to register two Japanese judges as members of the Hague Convention Attorney Network, which comprises judges from 65 signatories to the Hague Convention (see below), to help determine whether children of broken international marriages should be returned to their countries of habitual residence.
The measure is expected to give family court judges in Japan better access to information related to such proceedings via the network.
Through e-mails and other communications from their counterparts overseas, family court judges will be able to obtain constant, up-to-date information about legal and other systems to protect children and their mothers in other nations.
Lawyers specializing in such cases of parental child abduction have expressed high hopes. “Having detailed knowledge of the situation in the countries where children will be returned could make it easier to reach decisions,” one said.
The Supreme Court said 97 judges, drawn from 65 of the total 93 countries joining the convention, were registered in the network as of March.
Family laws differ among the signatory countries, and in the United States, they can even vary among states. Network members can exchange information about various legal systems and share their views on rulings in specific trials.
When the convention went into effect in Japan in April last year, the idea of registering Japanese court judges in the network was considered.
But some legal experts reportedly voiced concerns, saying that providing details of domestic trials to judges in other countries could hurt the independence of the judiciary.
Court judges experienced in handling such cases sought to enroll in the network. “I want to hear about the latest cases in other signatory countries so I can use them as reference,” one explained.
Consequently, the Supreme Court decided to register two judges who belong to its Family Bureau of the General Secretariat, rather than judges working in courts.
The two member judges are expected to liaise over the phone and e-mail after collecting questions from family courts and other related entities.
For example, in cases of suspected domestic violence, Japanese court judges will be able to inquire in advance whether mothers and their children are eligible to receive assistance from administrative authorities if they repatriate.
If the conditions for returning the children are decided through legal mediation, Japanese court judges will be able to verify whether the terms decided in Japan are also legally binding in the other country.
The sources said the network members occasionally hold gatherings and exchange opinions.
“Participation in the network means that judgments based on the convention [in Japan] will be more aligned with international standards,” said Toshiteru Shibaike, a lawyer and expert on the convention. “In the future, court judges will hopefully make more flexible judgments that emphasize the welfare of children while using the perspectives of their peers abroad as reference.”
■ The Hague Convention
Formally called the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, it went into effect in April 2014 in Japan. As of April this year, 93 countries were signatories. If children are taken to Japan, family courts make decisions over whether to accept requests to return the children filed by parents in other countries. As of the end of March, Japanese family courts had received a total of 16 such requests, nine of which were granted.
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