court ruling has shown judiciary limitations: the Kobe District Court acquitted
the former president of West Japan Railway Co. who had been accused of
professional negligence over death and injury in connection with the derailment
and crash on the Fukuchiyama Line, Hyogo Prefecture. A contention in the case lied
in whether a company executive could be responsible for serious railway
LIMITATIONS - ACQUITTAL OF RAILWAY PRESIDENT
On January 11 the Kobe District Court (Presiding Judge Okada Makoto) acquitted
ex-President of West Japan Railway Co., Yamazaki Masao, who had been accused
of responsibility for professional negligence in the disaster on the Fukuchiyama
Line which occurred on April 25, 2005 (he is fighting against a term of
three years' imprisonment). The accident killed 107 passengers and the
train engineer, injuring 562 people seriously and slightly. The disaster
has triggered even suicides later.
focal point was whether President was aware and foresaw a danger of accident. Yamazaki
was the director in charge of safety measure inspection of the company's
headquarters at the time when the track was reshaped to form a tighter curve at
the location of the accident. The court said 'the president could not predict a
possibility of accident', handing down him a not-guilty ruling.
bereaved families expressed a will of appeal, breaking down in tears. They said;
if the president is acquitted, every director could be innocent even if a more
serious accident should happen', and 'the legal system should be altered so
that criminal liability must be imposed on companies'.
bereft families want to appeal to a higher court because the decision for ex-President
may impact on the trial of three other former presidents of JR West, including ex-Chairman
Ide Masayoshi, who are under preparation for a trial. They face mandatory
indictment of a crime through professional negligence after the prosecutor's
inspection body ordered.
to the current criminal code, however, responsibility of a corporate cannot be pursued
in terms of professional negligence. Some experts have already pointed out
limitations in the criminal charges to impose organizational responsibility for
severe accidents. The acquittal of the ex-president in fact has shown
limitations. Under these circumstances it is anticipated that revelation of all
truths will be hard in the court of appeal of the three presidents as the bereaved
Root Cause - Division and Privatization of National Railway Corporation
New Socialist Party has insisted since the very day of the accident that the major
cause falls in the government's package of division and privatization of the former
national railway corporation and the accelerated efforts of deregulation as
well as the internal, punitive training program of the railway company by which
the driver was compelled to run with the excessive speed to be punctual.
West was so hurried, looking at the cases of JR East and JR Tokai, although the
west company has greater vulnerability in operations. It was eager to gain
status of complete privatization through opening company's shares to the public
as the government had urged, giving priority to profits at the risk of safety.
for the automatic train stop systems (ATS) to monitor train speed, JR Tokai had
already completed installation works and JR East had done so on the major
lines. But JR West was left behind and the jobs had not been made on many of
the service lines. The Fukuchiyama Line was one of them.
2005 when the accident happened, the Osaka Branch Office of JR West had adopted
a policy to 'make money' as the most important guideline and for safety it
reduced investment efforts to the maximum extent, cutting drastically relevant
budgets. The policy was criticized by the recent court session: the ruling says
'the safety step was neglected at the curve. As a major railway company JR West
is not measured up to the expected level'. The court pointed out responsibility
as an organization.
from the tragic scale, the ruling was insufficient and was far from the
expectations of families of victims. The current criminal code is designed to
make judgment on liability of a person and is not capable to investigate and
reveal truths of the accident. It may be necessary to alter the criminal code
changes should be made in the legal system for the purposes of revelation of
truths and prevention of similar accidents in the public transportation.
January 24, 2012