<COVID-19>Statement Calling for Producing the Official Records of the Proceedings of Every Meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Expert Meeting Specifying the Speaker Information and Respective Utterance Contents
Meetings of the Novel Coronavirus Expert Meeting (“Expert Meeting”) are held to provide the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters with advice and other recommendations from the medical standpoint. The Government admits that the Expert Meeting is deemed to fall under the category of a “round table meeting” that is referred to in the Guidelines for the Management of Administrative Documents (“Guidelines”). To date, the published records of these meetings is not the full meeting minutes, but merely the outlines of the proceedings of the meetings. Furthermore, it does not contain any speaker information of who gave utterance during the meetings.
In regard to the round table meeting, the Guidelines stipulate as follows: “[the round table meeting shall] produce, regardless of at ordinary times or in times of emergency, the records of the proceedings of discussion containing the speaker information and the content of their utterance . . . in order that the decision-making process including the background as well as the administrative affairs and services that were implemented by the relevant administrative bodies, can be rationally tracked or verified”. In this regard, it has been assumed that recording the individual’s information and the content of their statements is mandatory pursuant to Articles 1 and 4 of the Public Records Management Act, irrespective of the meeting records’ particular designation, to ensure that the decision-making process or the administrative affairs and services that were executed can be tracked and verified.
Furthermore, in light of the failure to create the public records of the proceedings at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the matters to be taken into consideration in reference to “historical emergency” were incorporated into the Guidelines later. The reason for this action was, in the case of a “historical emergency”—which is deemed historically significant policy matters of which records should be shared as the state and society to learn lessons thereof—the necessity of the verification is even more significant, hence a description of the speaker and the content of their comments should be preserved so that the decision-making process can be verified at a later period.
Therefore, the summary of the proceedings of the meetings of the Expert Meeting currently available is in violation of the Guidelines in that they neither contain a description of the speakers nor clarify the process including the background that led to the decision-making. Thus, it is required that the official record of the proceedings with a description of the speaker and the content of their comments be created.
Pertaining to this issue, the Government’s rationalization is as follows: (i) there is no need to produce “the records of a description of the speakers and the content of their comments, etc.”, since the Expert Meeting does not fall under the category of “the meetings and other assemblies that decide on or give agreement to the government policy” in times of “historical emergency” as defined in the Guidelines; (ii) the summary of discussion has been functioning appropriately because their anonymous format provokes candid and free discussion among the experts; and (iii) for the meetings of the Expert Meeting to be held in the future, the summary of discussion may contain a description of the speakers at the meetings, depending on the opinions of the members of the Expert Meeting.
However, the Government’s perspective presented in (i) points to a paradox that a description of the speakers is allowed to be omitted in times of “historical emergency”, whereas the information is required in ordinary times. This is clearly unreasonable and contrary to the purpose of the Public Records Management Act, namely the preservation of important records.
Additionally, regarding the viewpoint presented in (ii), it is hardly conceivable that the experts in infectious disease should find it difficult to make statements related to the realm of their specialty because their names will be recorded in the meeting minutes. If there is a risk of such case, it will be sufficient to address the matter separately as an issue of non-disclosure of certain parts of the minutes. Thus, it cannot be considered a valid reason not to create the record in the first place.
Furthermore, regarding the thoughts described in (iii), the way in which the recording of proceedings are recorded must be determined in accordance with the Public Records Management Act and the Guidelines based thereon, and not be influenced by the opinion of attendees.
Thus, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations urges that, in the spirit of the principles of the Public Records Management Act and the Guidelines, the official record of the proceedings containing a description of the speakers and the content of their comments be created at every meeting of the Expert Meeting that was actually held, in order that the process leading to the decision-making can be verified at a later time.
June 11, 2020
Japan Federation of Bar Associations