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Courtroom Notes Case

When I began researching a criminal trial in Tokyo in 1982, I discovered that Japan’s courts prohibited spectators from taking notes as they observed court proceedings. My immediate reaction – this was a shocking restriction on court reporting – was underscored by the text of Japan’s Constitution Article 82, which requires that trials be open to the public. 


A team of five pro bono JCLU attorneys represented me in a lawsuit that sought to overturn this prohibition.  They centered their arguments on Constitution Article 21, which guarantees freedom of speech.  Of greatest importance, they explained that since speech only has meaning when heard by an audience, Article 21 also protects the “Right to Know.” 


After defeats at Tokyo District Court and Tokyo High Court, we appealed to the Supreme Court of Japan.  In a judgment issued on March 8, 1989, the fifteen-justice “Grand Bench” issued a ruling that removed the note-taking prohibition, writing that, “Except under special circumstances, this [note-taking] should be left to the freedom of spectators.” Although the Court declined to declare that Constitution Article 21 protects a “Right to Know,” the judgment was a clear victory.  Since then, courtroom spectators have been allowed to take notes with few exceptions.  The case is taught prominently in constitutional law courses in Japan. 

Sankei Shimbun article reports that court memos are free in principle
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