Japan's top court apologizes in releasing report on disposal of trial records

Japan's Supreme Court has released a report on a series of disposals of high-profile trial records and apologized for the loss of many materials that it says should have been passed on to future generations.

The report issued on Thursday was drawn up by a panel of experts who looked into about 100 juvenile and civil trials that had a major social impact to find out why their records were discarded.

The top court launched the probe last year after it came to light that some of the records on such cases had been lost at courts across the nation.

The head of the court's general affairs bureau, Onodera Shinya, told a news conference that the series of problems had arisen from the supreme court's inadequate handling of the matter.
Onodera expressed deep remorse for the loss and offered an apology to all the people, including those who were involved in the cases in question.

One of the juvenile cases was a 1997 serial murder in Kobe City, in which a 14-year-old boy was arrested and sent to a medical juvenile reformatory for killing two children and injuring three others.

The report says the disposal of the Kobe case's records suggests court officials apparently had a belief that records should, in principle, be discarded.

The top court's rules say records must be designated for special preservation and kept permanently if they have historical significance. But the Kobe case was not designated as one.

The report notes the way of thinking was growing within the judiciary organization that trial records are kept for handling a case and should be disposed of when the original preservation period expires.

The report says it is necessary to keep trial records as the people's common property and hand them down to future generations.

As a way to prevent a recurrence, it says that the rules should clearly state the significance of preserving records, and criteria for designation for permanent preservation should be reviewed.

It also says setting up a standing third-party panel should be considered to hear the views of experts.