It will have passed 60 years next year since the Minamata disease was officially certified. The illness represents a beginning to think over environmental pollution in the country. Patients suffer at all times even though they are certified as a victim of the disease. In fact, however, another one or two hundred thousands of uncertified patients are tormented with various symptoms due to methyl mercury. The government’s policy and the judicial branch have functioned to abandon patients. Now they face a new policy.
SUPREME COURT, SAVE PATIENTS!
The Tokyo High Court rejected an appeal filed by Mr. Sato Hideki (a resident of Minamata City) who had sued against the government to suspend the new policy. It provides a new norm applicable to certify patients based on a law, Compensation Act for Health Damages caused by Public Nuisances. The recent court decision totally agreed with the one given by the Tokyo District Court last August: it said that the new norm constitutes ‘an internal act’ of the Ministry of Environment and not ‘disposition’ that implicates people’s rights and obligations. The high court has refuted the patient’s expectation.
The Ministry of Environment released a new guideline of norms for certification of patients on March 7, 2014, and sent to the prefectural offices, including that of Kumamoto Prefecture. It requests each patient to prepare for a proof of ‘objective resources’ to endorse intake of mercury if he/she suffers from a single, medical condition, such as sensual impairment on the limbs. The plaintiff Mr. Sato objects the guideline, claiming that ‘the new criteria restrict certification of patients. It has no scientific, medical rationales’. He requests the Ministry to withdraw the guideline and Kumamoto Prefecture not to employ it for certification.
Necessary Conditions for Administrative Litigation
The High Court turned simply down the litigation, using word ‘disposition’ and did not touch on details and content of the guideline. The plaintiff and counsels claimed in the appellate court that the administrative acts that judge the rights of people as a general administrative procedure and impact on the sphere of their rights are to be fully litigated administratively, even though the disposition does not directly relate with the rights and obligations of people. But the judges rejected the contention.
In April 2013, the Supreme Court ruled the administrative practices for certification as illegal in the case filed by Ms Mizoguchi Chie and F, declaring that a concept of Minamata disease is solo and that the government cannot arbitrarily limit it. The decision was epoch-making in the history of the Minamata case which had lasted over 60 years. Thus the government should have admitted its errors and rectified the procedures.
However, the Ministry of Environment immediately after the court ruling released a statement under the name of Vice-minister that ‘the Supreme Court’s decision does not contradict the 1977 judgment’. It has implemented measures one after another to leave the illegal practices intact. One of the steps was the new guideline announced on March 7 last year.
Mr. Sato appealed to the Supreme Court so as to seek for judicial duties. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Terada Itsuro had been Presiding Judge in the third petty bench of the Supreme Court which gave a decision on the case of Ms Mizoguchi and F. Attorney Yamaguchi Toshihiro, representing the plaintiffs told; ‘it is a good chance now, as Terada is Chief Justice. The district and high courts ordered to abandon patients. We must ask the Supreme Court whether this act should be allowed.’ The lawyer is enthusiastic.
Attorney Yamaguchi asked Presiding Judge of the High Court Shibata Hiroyuki, who had read out the court decision; ‘Do you believe that the Minamata case will be settled? It has been processed in the illegal procedures for the past 60 years. I am certain the court decision will never protect patients.’
The Presiding Judge mentioned twice in a weak voice; ‘the trial is over’.
‘Trials involved by judges may have been over, but damages on the side of Plaintiff Sato Hideki have not ended. The Minamata disease has not yet finished (Attorney Yamaguchi).’
July 21, 2015