The Cabinet convened a special meeting Friday to seek ways to improve how the government deals with major lawsuits against the state that till now have been handled independently by separate ministries.

“This meeting will be held to respond better to cases filed against the government,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters, explaining that there are about 60 major ongoing lawsuits the government is dealing with, including asbestos-related litigation, Minamata disease suits and litigation filed by people who contracted hepatitis B by using shared needles in group vaccinations initiated by the state.

Sengoku, a former lawyer, said the government has been unable to take a united stance in most cases, with lawsuits being handled only by ministries involved in the suit. Setting up a joint team under the Cabinet to manage the litigation will help the government work more efficiently, he said.

“This isn’t a measure to counter the plaintiffs. It is a measure to reach an appropriate resolution in the court cases by working as a team under the Cabinet and fittingly responding to each case,” Sengoku said.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who as health minister in 1996 exposed the government’s mishandling of HIV-tainted blood products, leading to mass infections, was upbeat about the new arrangement, Sengoku said.

“Prime Minister Kan insisted that the litigation should be handled properly, and that we should work to gain the understanding of the public by managing the cases openly,” he added.

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