The Supreme Court has dismissed a damages claim filed over the government’s decision to exclude pro-Pyongyang Korean schools from its tuition-free program for high schools, upholding lower court rulings that found the policy lawful.

The top court’s Third Petty Bench, presided over by Justice Toshimitsu Yamasaki, turned down the appeal demanding damages of ¥100,000 per plaintiff, filed by 61 alumni of a Korean junior and senior high school in Tokyo’s Kita Ward. The final judgment on the case was made on Tuesday.

The ruling was the first handed down by the top court among five lawsuits filed against the government policy. The latest judgment is expected to affect the course of the four ongoing lawsuits.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs protested the decision, saying that the judicial branch has abandoned its responsibility.

The Tokyo District Court and Tokyo High Court had found that the exclusion of Korean schools with close relationships with the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, from the tuition waiver program was legal.

The district court ruled in 2017 that the decision on the exclusion, made in 2012 by then-education minister Hakubun Shimomura, “did not amount to the abuse of discretionary power.” The ruling was upheld by the high court in 2018.

In a petition filed by a Korean school in Osaka Prefecture demanding the exclusion be rescinded, the Osaka District Court in 2017 sided with the plaintiff and said that the government policy was decided on the basis of diplomatic and political reasons and was illegal.

In 2018, however, the ruling was overturned by the Osaka High Court, which said that there was a reasonable belief that the school received excessive intervention from Chongryon in a way that distorted its educational autonomy. The school operator has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the high court verdict.

The remaining three lawsuits are being contested in high courts after the plaintiffs’ petitions were turned down by district courts.

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