In two cases related to the National Civil Service Law provision that prohibits national public servants from engaging in political activities, the Supreme Court’s Second Petit Bench ruled Nov. 7 that national public servants’ political activities should be banned only when such activities substantively violate the political neutrality legally required of them.
The ruling is significant as it pointed out that because the freedom of expression is an important right on which democracy is based, the prohibition of national public servants’ political activities should be limited to a minimum necessary level.
Investigative authorities and courts should pay serious attention to the ruling and act in accordance with it.
The Supreme Court did not declare the provision in the law as unconstitutional. While excessive political activities by public servants cannot be condoned, the government and the Diet should consider whether it is appropriate to uniformly ban national public servants from engaging in political activities outside work.
The two cases involved national public servants who distributed copies of Shimbun Akahata, the organ of the Japan Communist Party, on their days off.
Mr. Akio Horikoshi, a worker for the now-defunct Social Insurance Agency in 2003, was indicted for putting copies of the paper and other political literature in 126 mailboxes in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 19 and 25 and Nov. 3 of that year.
Separately, Mr. Shinichi Ujibashi, then deputy section chief of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, was indicted for putting copies of Akahata in 32 public housing mailboxes for Metropolitan Police Department officers in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on the eve of a Lower House election in September 2005.
The top court ruling said that in deciding whether to punish national public servants for engaging in political activities, authorities should take into account whether they are in a managerial position, the type of work, whether they have discretional power, whether they have engaged in political activities during office hours, and whether they have been recognized as national public servants while carrying out such activities.
On the basis of this standard, the top court upheld a high court ruling that had found Mr. Horikoshi innocent. But because Mr. Ujibashi was in a managerial position, it upheld a high court ruling that had found Mr. Ujibashi guilty and had fined him ¥100,000.
It is regrettable that the top court decision on Mr. Ujibashi did not clarify whether he wielded his power as a national public servant in a managerial position when he distributed the copies of Shimbun Akahata.
One of the four justices expressed a minority opinion that he should be judged not-guilty because his actions did not substantively violate the political neutrality required of him.
The MPD’s investigation against Mr. Horikoshi appears to have been excessive. According to Shimbun Akahata, a total of 171 police officers shadowed him for one month and made 33 videotapes, recording parts of his private life. The Supreme Court should have determined whether such an invasive investigation was lawful.