Statement Marking Constitution Memorial Day amid Heightening Debate regarding Constitutional Amendments
Today, Japan celebrated the 66th Constitution Memorial Day, the anniversary of the Constitution of Japan coming into force.
A law stipulating procedures for constitutional revisions entered into force three years ago, and the Examination Commissions on the Constitution, which was set up in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, have been discussing the issues surrounding the amendment of the Constitution. It is said that this will be one of the major issues involved in the Upper House election to be held this coming July.
However, we are concerned about any attempt to revise the Constitution before any momentum is seen among the public towards constitutional revision, given that (i) it has supremacy over all other laws in Japan, (ii) it limits state power, and (iii) it guarantees human rights.
In particular, the fact that a focal point of the discussions on constitutional revision is placed on relaxing the requirements for amending the Constitution must not be overlooked. Article 96 of the Constitution states that more than two-thirds of all House members in both houses of the Diet are required to propose a revision of the Constitution, in order to ensure that an initiative can only be made with an overwhelming majority after exhaustive debate on such matter in the Diet. When compared to the requirements for such revisions in other nations of the world, the degree of requirement in Japan is not particularly strict. Therefore, the JFBA expressed its strong opposition to the proposal under which the requirement for constitutional revision would be eased from “two-thirds or more” to a “majority” of each House in its opinion paper issued on March 14, 2013 and submitted to the presidents of the House of Representatives and House of Councilors etc., on March 19, 2013.
It is also said that the aim of easing such requirements is to revise Article 9 of the Constitution, and in this regard, there has been a growing movement in the government toward approving i) changes in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution, and ii) the use of the right to collective self-defense by legislation, before such revision of Article 9. The JFBA also expressed its concern by fiercely opposing such trend in its opinion paper submitted on March 19.
On a different note, the other day, high courts throughout Japan severely criticized the Diet for its tardiness in having left unresolved the issue of a disparity in vote values at the forty-sixth lower house general election that took place in December 2012. The courts issued a ruling that all of such disparities were unconstitutional, and further, some such results were even nullified. Resolution of such unconstitutional condition is what the Diet should work on as swiftly as possible. It is necessary to take drastic measures as soon as possible to genuinely achieve a true equality of each person's vote without resorting to taking only temporary measures.
Moreover, even after more than two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, a serious situation still remains in which there are still a considerable number of disaster victims whose fundamental human rights stipulated in the Constitution remain unguaranteed and unfulfilled. Furthermore, there are still many unresolved problems stemming from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima No.1 Power Plant Accident, including those with regard to the disposal of radioactive-contaminated water. In the face of such situation, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that the right to life for local residents living in the neighboring areas of the Accident are still not in any way guaranteed.
The JFBA hereby reconfirms the meaning of constitutionalism in which the Constitution, through its supremacy, imposes a limit on state power, and strives to ensure that every citizen shall be respected as an individual and that human rights are fully guaranteed.
May 3, 2013
Japan Federation of Bar Associations