Mrs. A writes: “Our family recently moved and our real estate agency knew that we suffer from allergies. We found a place in a quiet neighborhood and now find out that a local business burns its garbage, primarily between 6 and 10 a.m., but also at other times during the day. It seems like no time is safe to open the windows.
“Needless to say, the smell is terrible, and general ‘backyard’ burning is said to generate dioxins, putting the health of our family and everyone else in our neighborhood at risk. I realize that garbage disposal is a problem in Tokyo, but burning garbage in residential areas poses such health hazards and inconvenience — how can local governments still allow it? What can we do?”
You could sue the company or the local government that runs the garbage incineration plant to force them to stop running the facility, or to win compensation for your pain and suffering. However, this could cost you a great deal of time and money. Your claim would have to be backed up by solid evidence and the case could take years to work its way toward a judgement, depending on its complexity.
If you opt to go to court, you would have to pay all of the costs, which are likely to total a few million yen. Not many people could realistically put aside such a large amount of money. So what can those of lesser means do about environmental pollution?
They can draw on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures established by the government — for example, the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission, the central government panel that handles larger cases, and the Prefectural Pollution Examination Commissions, which deal with more local environmental issues. And ADR has some definite advantages compared with standard court procedures.
First, these commissions include experts in environmental pollution. You can tap the knowledge of these experts, and the commission will then review your claim and provide an immediate solution.
Second, in court, gathering and producing evidence is the responsibility of the litigant. In a pollution case, for example, this is not an easy task for a non-expert. Using an ADR procedure, on the other hand, the commission itself can gather and assess evidence on your behalf.
Third, there is the matter of speed. As I said before, it can take a long time to wrap up a court case, and there is no time limit.
On the other hand, the commission has to finish the case within a certain period by law. That’s why the ADR procedure is much speedier than standard litigation.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the issue of cost. ADR procedures are considerably cheaper than going through the courts. For example, the revenue stamp fee a complainant is required to pay to start ADR arbitration is a quarter of the equivalent for a regular court case.
Also, as the commissions can gather evidence instead of the complainant when they think it is necessary, the cost to put together a case for ADR can be far cheaper than for a judicial trial.
Of course, you can file a case with the commission yourself, but you can also appoint a lawyer as your representative and ask him to take the case. If you have any questions about environmental pollution, please feel free to contact us.
Jun Kajita is an attorney with the Foreigners and International Service Section at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving foreigners in the Tokyo area (www.t-pblo.jp/fiss). FISS lawyers address readers’ queries on the second Tuesday of the month. Phone: 03-6809-6200. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .