Plenary sessions in the House of Representatives remain closed to the public even though the postwar Constitution stipulates otherwise.
For more than seven years — ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — the Diet’s more powerful chamber has kept the doors shut to its full-dress meetings. Only visitors with an invitation from a lawmaker are permitted to watch the proceedings.
Reiko Oyama, a political science professor at Komazawa University in Tokyo, said enforcing restrictions on public attendance in the gallery for such a lengthy period on grounds of terrorism concerns appears to run counter to the Constitution.
Article 57 stipulates that “deliberations in each House shall be public.” The House of Councilors is still open to visitors.
The Lower House permitted members of the public to watch plenary sessions on a first-come, first-served basis in 1946, a year after Japan’s World War II defeat and before the Constitution was promulgated. That practice went uninterrupted until October 2001.
The Lower House’s Web site says issuing tickets to the public for plenary sessions has been suspended in connection with the terrorist attacks in the United States.
The chamber’s secretariat appears intent on retaining the restriction policy, saying “resumption of public attendance in the gallery is difficult at this stage, as there have been a series of terrorist attacks in the world recently.”
It maintains that the policy poses no problem in terms of the Constitution because plenary sessions are still open to members of the public, provided they have a special invitation from a House member.
Neither the U.S. Congress nor the British Parliament closed their doors even in the period immediately after the 9/11 attacks, maintaining a philosophy of giving the public continued access to the legislative branches of government.
However, a staff member at the U.S. Office of the House Historian said the number of police officers has been increased and the sensitivity of metal detectors has been enhanced to achieve better inspections of visitors.
Upper House officials conduct security checks on visitors just like their Lower House counterparts, but a lawmaker’s invitation isn’t needed.
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