The following editorial appeared in Friday's Japan News-Yomiuri:
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As the number of foreign residents and visitors to Japan increases, the number of foreigners who are involved in or are witnesses to incidents is increasing. It is important to secure legal interpreters to assist with investigations and trials.
In 2018, there were 3,757 cases at district and summary courts nationwide in which the defendants were foreigners and the trials were attended by interpreters. The figure is a 60% increase from five years earlier. There are as many as 38 languages handled by interpreters.
As of April 2019, there were 3,586 interpreters registered at courts, down 10% from five years ago. The Supreme Court has said, "There is no problem with the trials." However, if interpreters cannot keep up with the increase in the number of criminal cases, it could damage confidence in the judiciary.
In the past, there have been cases in which interpreter errors at trials became an issue. It is pointed out that the ability levels of interpreters can vary, and some of them interpret in a self-taught manner.
Whether the quality of interpreters can be guaranteed is a matter of foreigners' right to get a fair trial. In lay judge trials, the exchange of arguments in court is an important factor in making decisions. Therefore, the role of an interpreter is becoming more important.
Court interpreters are required to have expertise, such as translating difficult legal terms. Currently, applicants are screened for aptitude based on documents and interviews with judges from among those who are proficient in languages. There are training sessions for them, but no special qualifications are required of them.
No base amount for the compensation of interpreters has been revealed. There are complaints among interpreters that the basis for compensation calculations is unclear, and compensation commensurate with the weight of their responsibility is not paid to them.
Study a system
The United States and Australia have a qualification system for court interpreters. Some U.S. states have regulations for the compensation of court interpreters based on their rank. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations proposed establishing a similar system in 2013. This will be an issue to be considered to maintain the level of interpreters.
In April 2019, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and Aoyama Gakuin University jointly launched a course to foster judicial interpreters. In addition to interpretive techniques, they also teach students about legal and judicial systems. A certificate will be issued to those who complete the course.
It is essential that such efforts are made repeatedly and that they result in raising the level of legal interpreters.
The use of communications technology is also important. In a trial for Filipino defendants at the Yamagata District Court, in which a ruling was handed down in January, an interpreter at another court interpreted arguments at the district court via a video link system transmitting sounds and images.
The Justice Ministry also plans to introduce an interpretation system using such teleconferencing when prosecutors interrogate foreigners. The system connects the interrogation room and another prosecution facility where an interpreter is located.
It is necessary to realize adequate investigations and fair trials by steadily securing interpreters.