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Translating laws into English would make good business sense

by Yoshio Nakamura

Japan is pushing for judicial reform, and efforts to establish a judicial system that the public can clearly understand and feel familiar with — including the recent enactment of a law introducing the so-called citizen judge system — are fully under way.

One of the major pillars of this reform movement is the internationalization of Japan’s judicial system. So far, the nation has taken steps to cope with the globalization of legal services by facilitating cross-border partnerships among law firms. It has also promoted the donation of technical aid to developing countries to help them improve their legal systems.

But as globalization continues and the number of cross-border legal issues begins to spike, sufficient discussion on whether Japan’s legal codes are clearly understood overseas remains sorely lacking. Most Japanese laws have no official translation.

Of course, the private sector and the ministries have both translated some of the laws into key foreign languages to suit their individual needs. However, Japan still lacks a set of standardized translations for basic legal words and terms that may differ conceptually with those in other countries. In one case, a Japanese law was translated into several foreign languages in many different ways, and the resulting lack of credibility caused much confusion.

Japan enacts and amends a large number of laws each year. Whenever Japanese corporations need foreign-language versions of their own laws, however, they have been obliged to spend huge amounts of money on finding credible translations or hiring outside translators.

Given that situation, the business community has advocated creating a highly reliable set of translations that would be accessible worldwide. We believe such an effort would facilitate international transactions, expand foreign investment in Japan, promote legal support for developing countries, and promote the international harmonization of legal systems. And we have been urging the government to take the lead in quickly implementing such measures.

The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have decided to look into the feasibility of making a set of standardized translations of Japanese laws that would be open to perusal on the Internet. We hope such efforts will be the first step toward making the Japanese legal system more understandable worldwide.