Top court’s refusal to release documents illegal

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday became the first Japanese court to rule against a Supreme Court’s refusal to disclose judicial administration documents.

The district court ordered the government to pay Hisashi Muto, a private citizen, 60,000 yen in damages for infringing on his constitutional right to information. The Supreme Court had rejected Muto’s request for documents on the Lockheed bribery scandal of the 1970s. Muto had sought 1.3 million yen.

Under the information disclosure law, Muto asked the Supreme Court in May 2001 to release four documents, including the minutes of a July 1976 conference of Supreme Court justices who endorsed the immunity from prosecution for alleged American bribers in the Lockheed case.

But the Supreme Court refused to disclose virtually all of the documents, with the exception of the conclusion of the justices’ conference.

The district court said Thursday that the top court’s refusal to release two of the documents was illegal and that the government is responsible for paying compensation.

The other two documents could not be found at the time Muto’s made his disclosure request. The district court rejected Muto’s claim that they had been hidden and ruled that no compensation was warranted.

Presiding Judge Yoshiteru Kawamura said the rule of treating the conference as a closed-door affair should be considered separate from the issue of whether its minutes should be kept confidential.

“It cannot be said that disclosing the (justices’) process of decision-making will have an adverse effect on future proceedings,” the judge said. “The actions of the head of the Supreme Court’s Secretary Division in denying disclosure of the meeting’s contents were illegal.”

To obtain depositions from the alleged American bribers, including then Lockheed Corp. Vice Chairman A. Carl Kotchian, Japanese prosecutors declared they were immune from prosecution. The Supreme Court endorsed the declaration after the justices’ conference.

Muto said he was surprised at the district court’s decision.

“Frankly speaking, since the other party was the Supreme Court, I did not think I could win,” he told a news conference.

The Lockheed scandal led to the arrest of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and other politicians in Japan.