The ruling coalition agreed Thursday that it will move quickly to adopt a Diet resolution to help former Hansen’s disease patients.
This follows Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision Wednesday that the government will not file an appeal against a landmark court ruling ordering the state to compensate the patients for forcing them into isolation.
The secretaries general and policy chiefs of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party agreed that the parties’ officials in charge of Diet affairs will draft the resolution as soon as possible and seek the opposition’s cooperation in adopting it in the Diet, party members said.
The three parties also decided to submit a bill on state compensation for former and current Hansen’s disease patients and seek its passage before the end of the current Diet session in late June, they said.
The coalition plans to compile the draft bill by early June and present a uniform amount of compensation to all former patients of Hansen’s disease, including those who did not participate in the suit, they said.
“We held discussions on the need to work on (the bill) as quickly as possible,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.
“The Diet schedule is very full. But I think we can obtain the necessary cooperation” of political parties.
Senior LDP officials said the compensation will likely cover up to 4,500 Hansen’s disease patients nationwide. Between 40 billion yen and 50 billion yen needed for the payment will be earmarked in a reserve fund in the fiscal 2001 budget, they said.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will soon establish a consultation body with the plaintiffs to decide on the amount of compensation, the officials said.
Koizumi made the surprise decision not to appeal the court ruling during a meeting with top government and LDP officials Wednesday. Before that, he had met some of the plaintiffs, who visited his official residence to ask him not to appeal the case.
Koizumi told reporters, “This is a very rare case, but we have decided not to appeal.”
Top government spokesman Fukuda said the state recognizes that its past policy of dealing with sufferers of the disease significantly infringed on their basic human rights.
“The government deeply reflects on the past policy and offers an apology to them,” Fukuda told a news conference.
“The government extends its condolences to those who have died amid the suffering and resentment.”
Fukuda said the government will immediately start working on new, special legislation to compensate former patients, regardless of whether they have already sued the government. Some 4,500 former patients, including 1,702 who have sued, are considered eligible for redress.
He said the amount of compensation paid to each former patient would be based on the figure set by the Kumamoto District Court on May 11 — between 8 million yen and 14 million yen each — depending on the time they were institutionalized.
The government will also create a new pension plan for the patients and take further medical and welfare measures.
He said the government partially based its surprise decision on the advanced age of the plaintiffs, now over 74.
The government would have appealed the case under normal circumstances because it sees “grave legal problems” with the ruling, Fukuda said. But it took a softer approach, he said, because it saw the need to resolve the issue quickly.
Fukuda, however, maintained that the government faces a serious legal problem.
The ruling approves compensation for damages over 40 years, but that counters a Civil Code regulation stipulating that claims in excess of 20 years will disappear, he said.
Commenting on the government decision, LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki told reporters that the party will play a role to draft a bill to realize the special legislation within the current Diet session, scheduled to end June 29.
Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, a senior member of the ruling coalition’s second-biggest party, New Komeito, had threatened to resign if the government decided to appeal, although some doubted he would follow through with the threat.
His resignation could have jolted Koizumi’s coalition government, as the ruling LDP needs New Komeito to maintain a majority in the Diet. A decision to appeal may also have affected the enormous public popularity of the Koizumi administration.
The district court ordered the state to pay 1.82 billion yen to 127 former Hansen’s disease patients who were forced into isolation under the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law, which was only repealed in 1996. The 127 comprised the first group of plaintiffs.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.