Editorial: Record number of constitutional court case disposals is a foolish abandonment of future reexamination

August 7, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

Even though it will be thought of as treating human rights carelessly, there is nothing to be done about it.

Already, courts all over Japan have thrown out the records of a majority of important post-war civil suits that debated constitutionality.

Of the 137 cases printed in representative casebooks, 118 (86%) have been thrown away. Only 18 cases (13%) have been kept, with one case still being deliberated.

Surprisingly, among the tossed case files were the well-known and important Naganuma Nike lawsuit and the Kojimachi Junior High School transcripts lawsuit.

The Naganuma Nike suit dealt with a missile launch site, and debated the constitutionality of the JSDF, where the Sapporo District Court initially ruled it unconstitutional. The Kojimachi Junior High School transcripts case debated the liberty of a student to their own thoughts and beliefs.

Court rules state that in a regular civil suit, after a decision or settlement, the court that handed down the original ruling is to keep the decision for five years, and then throw it out. Meanwhile, there is a framework for special preservations, and the court records that should contain historical material and reference data, and in fact these are required to be preserved in perpetuity.

However, an investigation has revealed that only six of these cases are categorized as special preservation. This includes cases such as the Tsu ground-breaking ceremony lawsuit, which debated the separation of church and state, and the Osaka Airport lawsuit, where residents near the airport sued to stop nighttime flights.

While the reason for these nullifications are unclear, such as the court rules being applied loosely for these important decisions, or inconvenient records being arbitrarily discarded, the nullifications themselves are extremely inappropriate. There are experts that have indicated that they are uncertain if this violates court rules.

Above all, the records of these signature cases, which dealt with major problems for Okinawans, are being thrown out.

When the governor was asked to sign land leases on behalf of land owners who refused to offer their land for U.S. military use, the governor filed a suit against Japan. Then-governor Masahide Ota, who blocked the proxy lease-signing in December 1995, did so against the backdrop of the rape of a girls by U.S. military personnel in September of the same year.
While the lawsuit was argued over the freedom of ideals and conscience of the landowners, property rights, and regional autonomy, the suit was a sharp interrogation of a constitution which failed to protect the dignity of an individual. In addition to the added significance of the suit, the court records is a document that can be used to link the property right of Okinawans to Japanese citizens overall. The disposal of this document is a big loss for the ability to examine history.

The documents that contain the written decisions for cases including the proxy lease-signing lawsuit still largely remain, however the initial filing papers, written response, courtroom records etc. have been disposed of.

The constitution exists to constrict the immense power of the state through the rule of law. The constitutional court decides on basic rights as applied directly or indirectly in the constitution, as they relate to individuals, the government, and business when applicable.
These court records also record the history of when individuals have faced this immense power structure to obtain human rights such as suitable work conditions, peace, and freedom of expression.

The ability to review the court cases that led to decisions is important. Disposing of these historical documents can only be called a foolish eradication of future examination.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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