On 15 April 2008, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that it was not unlawful that the warden of a prison did not allow a lawyer's visit to the prisoners.
Two prisoners detained in Hiroshima Prison claimed that they were assaulted and defamed by the prison officials, and filed a petition to redress the human rights to the Human Rights Protection Committee set up by the Hiroshima Bar Association. The Committee selected the lawyers to investigate the incident, and they requested permission to interview the other inmates who allegedly witnessed that situation. The interview would form a part of the investigation, but such interviews were not allowed.
According to the Supreme Court, Article 45-2 of the former Prison Law which defines the legal visits was interpreted that whether an interview is granted or not is balanced against the necessity of taking measures to maintain discipline and order in the prison, in case that an interview is perceived to possibly cause grave concern to the inmates. However, in this case, the interest of the lawyers who requested the legal visit and the necessity of maintaining discipline and order in the prison did not have to be balanced because the visit would not have a direct influence on the interests of the other inmates who would be interviewed. In addition, according to the Supreme Court, the warden of the prison did not have to allow the lawyers' visit because the Human Rights Protection Committee did not have the authority to forcefully investigate the case.
The former Prison Law was amended in 2006 and became the Law Concerning Penal Institutions and Treatment of Prisoners. Complaint procedures were established and Penal Institutions Inspection Committee was also set up. According to the supporting opinions of the Supreme Court, however, this Committee was not an institution to examine individual human rights abuse cases, and the Committee only held the power to make statements to the prison management. The Court also pointed out that the Civil Liberties Bureau in the Justice Ministry was not necessarily an appropriate institution to deal with the human rights violation allegations inside the prison because the Bureau and prisons were under the same jurisdiction. The Court recognized that the Human Rights Protection Committee formed by the Bar Association was the only external institution to investigate human rights violations inside the prison, and therefore a sincere and flexible approach is required to investigations by the Human Rights Protection Committee, although it was not considered illegal for the warden of the prison to reject a legal visit in this case.
The final report of the UN Committee against Torture adopted after the deliberations in May 2007 was also concerned about "the lack of authority of the Penal Institution Inspection Committee to investigate cases or allegations of acts of torture or ill-treatment" and the lack of an effective complaint system. (24 April 2008)
·Supreme Court Ruling 15 April 2008 [Japanese]
·President's Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on State Compensation Lawsuit by Hiroshima Bar Association against Rejection of Legal Visit by Warden of Hiroshima Prison (15 April 2008) (Japan Federation of Bar Associations) [Japanese]
·Conclusion and recommendation of the Committee against Torture
Law on Penal Institutions and Treatment of Prisoners Was Amended (Hurights Osaka News in Brief, June 2006)