Two decades after a prewar law that mandated the segregation of patients suffering from Hansen’s disease was abolished, the Supreme Court is reportedly about to acknowledge its fault in authorizing criminal trials on patients of the disease outside standard courtrooms, often in effectively closed circumstances — a practice that former patients and their supporters charge violated the constitutional principle of open trials and denied fair proceedings for the accused.
The rare apology that the top court is said to be readying for the former patients of the disease, also known as leprosy, may be coming too late — given that the government accepted the illegality of the segregation policy, which was based on misconceptions about the disease, in 2001 and the Diet subsequently enacted a law providing compensation to former patients for their suffering under the policy. But it would still not be too late for the Supreme Court to candidly assess whether or how the trial proceedings were influenced by prejudice against the patients, and whether the courts’ rulings were handed down free of such influence.
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