The Supreme Court convened its Grand Bench on Wednesday to consider disputes over a Civil Code provision for less inheritance for illegitimate children, indicating it may reverse its earlier interpretation of the provision as constitutional.
The top court convenes the Grand Bench when it plans to change its interpretation of the Constitution or reverse a legal precedent.
The court is expected to make a final decision, possibly by autumn, to interpret the Civil Code provision as running counter to the Constitution, which guarantees equality for all under the law.
Paragraph 4 of the Civil Code’s Article 900 provides that a child born out of wedlock is entitled to inherit only half the value of an estate accorded to a legitimate child.
The provision represents “unreasonable discrimination and is unconstitutional,” said a lawyer for an illegitimate child whose father died in Tokyo in July 2001, at the Grand Bench session Wednesday morning.
“Europe has repealed such discrimination and a relevant United Nations committee has repeatedly recommended that Japan correct this discrimination,” the lawyer said. “The provision has lost its raison d’etre and should be promptly ruled as unconstitutional and void.”
In response, a lawyer for a child born in wedlock in the Tokyo dispute defended the provision as contributing to stabilizing a family and as reflecting social realities.
The Grand Bench is to address another inheritance dispute in Wakayama Prefecture.
The provision was first established in the civil code in 1898 and was left untouched in the postwar version. Some provisions of the current Civil Code are still based on the social norm of long ago.
In its decision in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision respects the position of legitimate children while protecting illegitimate children and cannot be viewed as representing unreasonable discrimination.
But five of the 15 Grand Bench justices opposed the decision, branding the provision as unconstitutional.
Since then, top court rulings on inheritance disputes have followed the 1995 decision. But some justices have opposed the decision or called for legislative action to eliminate discrimination.