PROceedings Paper Abstract

Jonathan Marshall. "Leveraging Accountability: Courts, Calculation, and Freedom of Information in Japan." Paper prepared for delivery at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, August 30-September 2, 2001.

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Keywords: japan, local government, courts, freedom of information, oversight


One perennial problem in law and economics is how to devise institutions that allow principals to monitor their agents and thus hold them accountable. Voters monitor their agents, politicians, primarily through elections. Politicians either directly monitor their agents, bureaucrats, or allow their principals to do their monitoring for them, often via the courts. Administrative procedure laws, freedom of information laws, and laws that give individuals standing to sue on behalf of other taxpayers are some examples of legal institutions that allow individuals to monitor government. From 1982 through the early 1990s, Japanese local governments were rushing to pass freedom of information statutes. Mayors and governors in these local governments knew that the courts had rarely questioned administration interpretations of similar statutes, and consequently did not fear that they would be forced to divulge anything they did not want to disclose. The courts did not act in line with the politicians’ expectations, however, and ruled in favor of plaintiffs at a much higher rate in information disclosure cases than they did in other administrative cases. By the time this pattern became clear, almost all major local governments had enacted disclosure statutes and had to live with their consequences. The national government followed suit in 1999. The career of information disclosure legislation in Japan shows that minor changes in barriers to entry for would-be plaintiffs can activate a monitoring institution and create a constituency for further direct oversight of government.

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