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No records kept on meetings about extending Japan prosecutors' retirement

The papers that the Ministry of Justice released on April 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Justice in Japan has kept no records of meetings within the ministry or with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and other bodies about applying the retirement age extension under the National Public Service Act to prosecutors, it has emerged.

In response to a freedom of information request filed by the Mainichi Shimbun in February 2020 regarding documents related to the retirement extension of Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, which was approved during a Cabinet meeting in late January, the Justice Ministry responded there were none. While the extension of prosecutors' retirement has been clearly outlined in a bill to revise the Public Prosecutor's Office Act currently under Diet debate, the "decision-making process" that lays the foundation for legal amendment remains unclear.

Article 4 of the Public Records and Archives Management Act requires "Employees of an Administrative Organ" to "prepare documents concerning the following and other particulars to enable decision-making processes including their background in said Administrative Organ and performance of the affairs and business of said Administrative Organ to be inquired into or observed logically." To investigate what led to the legal reinterpretation, the Mainichi on Feb. 17 filed a freedom of information request on "all documents relating to the Justice Ministry's internal deliberations, as well as meetings between the Justice Ministry and the prime minister, the Cabinet Secretariat, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and the National Personnel Authority."

The documents that the Justice Ministry disclosed on April 22 were those that had already been submitted to the Diet: three pages of a memo dated Jan. 16, 2020, titled "About the employment extension of prosecutors, two pages of an undated document that explained the application of employment extensions, and one page of another undated document that was a response from the National Personnel Authority to a question from the Justice Ministry. While the documents together provided the reason for the reinterpretation of the Public Prosecutor's Office Act and the National Public Service Act, there were no documents that explained who proposed the reinterpretation and when, the content of the discussion that ensued, and what process led to the approval of the proposal.

According to remarks made in the Diet by Justice Minister Masako Mori from February to March, the Justice Ministry had been deliberating the pros and cons of extending the retirement age for prosecutors since 2019 as part of its discussions to raise the retirement age of national government employees. Until about late October 2019, the interpretation that prosecutors were not eligible for retirement extensions had been upheld, but the issue was put back on the table around December of the same year.

On Jan. 17, 2020, Mori verbally approved of the change, and it is said that on Jan. 21 and Jan. 24, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and the National Personnel Authority, respectively, informed the Justice Ministry that they had no objections. Based on this legal reinterpretation, the government extended Kurokawa's retirement age at a Cabinet meeting on Jan. 31. However, the documents that were disclosed on April 22 to the Mainichi did not have any information showing these chain of events.

The Mainichi had also filed freedom of information requests for documents showing the government's deliberation process for Kurokawa's retirement extension, but was told, "No corresponding documents existed at the time of the request."

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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