Statement on the Supreme Court Decision that Finds Non-Disclosure of Medical Records by Tokyo Detention Center Illegal
On June 15, 2021, the 3rd Petty Bench of the Supreme Court reversed the original judgment of the Tokyo High Court and remanded the case to the Tokyo High Court (the "Decision") in a lawsuit in which an unsentenced detainee at the Tokyo Detention Center sought reversal of a decision by the Tokyo Regional Correction Superintendent to not disclose all of the personal information (the "Information") recorded in the medical records of the detainee (the "Medical Records"). The original judgment by the High Court dismissed the claim.
The original judgment stated that if the retained personal information on the treatment of detainees was subject to disclosure requests, it might be used by a third party to examine the detainee's criminal record or other information, which might have a harmful effect on the detainee's rehabilitation. The High Court, therefore, dismissed the request on the grounds that the medical information also constituted personal information in possession pertaining to the trial of a criminal case under Article 45(1) of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs (hereinafter referred to as the "Administrative Organs Personal Information Protection Act"), which is not subject to disclosure.
The Decision, on the other hand, ruled that the provisions of the Medical Service Act were in principle applicable to hospitals and other medical facilities in penal institutions, and that the nature of medical treatment received by detainees during their detention was not different from that of medical treatment provided to the general public, and that the absence of a provision that exempts medical information from disclosure after the amendment to the former Act (Act on the Protection of Personal Information pertaining to Computer Processed Personal Data Held by Administrative Organs) meant that medical information, in general, should be subject to disclosure from the standpoint that information should be disclosed as broadly as possible.
The Decision held that the Information did not fall under the category of personal information in possession as prescribed in Article 45(1) of the Administrative Organs Personal Information Protection Act and was indeed subject to a request for disclosure under Article 12(1) of the same Act.
As pointed out in the supplementary opinion by Judge Katsuya Uga, informed consent is the basis of medical treatment, and the right to self-determination in medical treatment must be respected as one of the contents of personal rights, and this is no different in medical treatment in penal institutions.
In "Opinion on Problems in Medical Treatment in Penal Institutions as seen in the Tokushima Prison Case and on the Direction of Reform" (November 18, 2009) and on other occasions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) has repeatedly pointed out that Medical Records should be disclosed in penal institutions in the same way as in the general public. Furthermore, the recommendations of the Council for Penal Reform (December 22, 2003), which the Ministry of Justice established in response to the so-called Nagoya prison incident that occurred between 2001 and the following year, clearly called for the establishment of a system that would allow the disclosure of medical records to the individual or the bereaved family and a system that would allow for external checks to ensure proper correctional medical care.
Yet, the State (Ministry of Justice) has not responded to this request, claiming that the disclosure of medical records in penal institutions was exempted from the Administrative Organs Personal Information Protection Act.
However, it is already a standard practice by international human rights standards that the disclosure of medical records in penal institutions should be allowed.
In other words, everyone has the "right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health" (Article 12, paragraph 1 of the Covenant on Social Rights), and if a detainee has undergone a medical examination, the fact of the examination, the name of the physician and the results of the examination must be accurately recorded, and access to the records must be guaranteed (Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment 26). This has been inherited by the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).
This Decision can be highly evaluated as it clearly rejects the government's past practice of not allowing the disclosure of medical records upon request by the detainees themselves and allows access to medical records in penal institutions in the same way as in the general public.
As JFBA has published opinions for reform of the medical system in penal institutions, including establishing the independence of medical departments in the institutions, we urge the Ministry of Justice to promptly disclose medical records, regardless of whether the person is in detention or not, and to once again make efforts to fundamentally reform the medical system in penal institutions, in response to this Decision.
June 16, 2021
President, Japan Federation of Bar Associations