The Osaka High Court on Sept. 27 ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote violates the Constitution, an unprecedented decision hailed by human rights lawyers but blasted by the Justice Ministry. A senior ministry official said the ruling was “totally unexpected” and could create problems in the judicial system. “If the law is revised to give voting rights to prisoners, who make up the majority of people in justice institutions, it would have considerable ramifications,” the official said. “We will have to hold talks with the internal affairs ministry.” Presiding Judge Hiroshi Kojima dismissed the government’s argument that prisoners lack a law-abiding spirit and cannot be expected to exercise their right to vote in a fair manner. The judge also noted that prisoners are allowed to vote in a national referendum, which is required in procedures to revise the Constitution.
The case was brought to court by Hiroshi Inagaki, a 69-year-old resident of Osaka’s Nishinari Ward.
“Regardless of whether you’re a prisoner or not, people invariably have the desire to cast their ballots,” he said.
Inagaki demanded 1 million yen ($10,152) in damages from the government for denying him the right to vote in the Upper House election in July 2010 while he was serving a prison term for violating the Road Traffic Law.
He appealed the case after the Osaka District Court ruled against him in February.