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The Supreme Court on Sept. 9 turned down a damages suit filed by the wife of a mental hospital chief who claims her husband killed himself in 1985 because of a slanderous remark made against him by a Diet member.

It was the first Supreme Court ruling on whether a lawmaker can be held responsible for damages over comments made during a Diet session. Article 51 of the Constitution states, “Members of both Houses (of the Diet) shall not be held liable outside the House for speeches, debates or votes cast inside the House.”

According to earlier district and high court rulings, Yasuko Takemura of the Social Democratic Party made the remark during a November 1985 session of the Lower House committee on social and labor affairs. Takemura, a Lower House member at the time has since moved to the Upper House.

In a reference concerning the chief of a Sapporo mental hospital, Takemura alleged that the man was addicted to tranquilizers and that he had been sexually harassing his female patients. The 40-year-old hospital chief died the following day in an apparent suicide. Shortly after her husband’s death, the wife filed the 100 million yen damages suit against Takemura and the central government.

In 1993, the Sapporo District Court dismissed the lawsuit, citing Constitutional immunity. The ruling was upheld by the Sapporo High Court in 1994. In the latest hearing, the Supreme Court supported the earlier rulings. Presiding Justice Yukinobu Ozaki said that Takemura had made the remark in her official capacity as a public servant, and could not be held liable for the comment.

Citing Article 51 of the Constitution, the justice said Diet members “are given broad discretionary powers in order to deepen discussions (over legislative matters).” Unless Diet members make intentionally libelous remarks, their comments do not constitute illegal activity, and the state will not be be held responsible for damages related to them, he said in the ruling.

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