TOKYO, Feb. 15–(Kyodo) — The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said Thursday it has decided not to take punitive action against two lawyers for AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara as requested by the Tokyo High Court for allegedly disrupting court procedures by refusing to submit an appeal document by the deadline.
The federation, the country’s sole organization of law professionals, said the high court filed the request too late because Asahara’s trial had already finished at the time, the sources said.
It was the first time since 1989 that a court has requested the lawyers’ federation to punish its members.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, 51, is on death row after being convicted in February 2004 of all criminal counts, including masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which claimed the lives of 12 people and left more than 5,500 others injured.
The federation made the decision nearly five months after Presiding Judge Masaru Suda at the high court filed the request Sept. 25, 2006, 10 days after the Supreme Court turned down a special appeal filed by Asahara’s defense lawyers.
Judge Suda had sought punitive action against lawyers Takeshi Matsui, a Tokyo-based attorney, and Akio Matsushita, who is based in Sendai, saying they failed to fulfill their duties as they violated Asahara’s right of access to the courts.
The two lawyers, appointed as defense counsel for Asahara for the trial at the high court, demanded the trial process be suspended, saying that the defendant was not fit to face trial and that they could not communicate with him.
The lawyers did not submit a statement of reasons by the August 2005 deadline for the appeal against the Tokyo District Court ruling that sentenced Asahara to death.
The Tokyo High Court turned down the appeal in March 2006, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court.
Besides the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system, Asahara was also convicted of masterminding another sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994 and of murdering a Yokohama-based anti-cult lawyer, his wife and their son in 1989.
Judge Suda filed the request in line with Supreme Court-set rules for criminal trials that require judges to seek punishment against prosecutors or lawyers if they disrupt the smooth execution of criminal procedure. The relevant authorities — prosecutors offices or the Japan Federation of Bar Associations — have to decide on what action to take in three months.