SAITAMA — Court interpreters were put to the test Wednesday as the first lay judge trial of a foreign defendant drew on their language and translation skills at the Saitama District Court.
The defendant, a 20-year-old Filipino man, stands charged with robbery resulting in bodily injury. His trial began Tuesday and runs until Friday.
The man stands accused of attacking two men in the streets of Saitama and Toda with two boys, robbing them of their cash and belongings on separate occasions in December.
The defendant, who, too, was a minor when the alleged crimes were committed, has owned up to the charges.
Previously when only professional judges tried a case, prosecutors and defense lawyers focused on preparing reams of documents for submission as evidence. But under the lay judge system, greater emphasis is put on oral proceedings instead of documents to make the process easier to understand.
But for court translators, more oral proceedings mean more word-to-word translation on the spot, making their roles much more challenging.
During the opening statements Tuesday, however, the translators could expect what they would be dealing with, because state and defense statements were apparently provided in advance.
The situation changed as the questioning of witnesses began Wednesday. The two Tagalog translators, information about whom was not provided except that it is believed they are native speakers with court translation experience, had to be alert all the time as they took turns translating every word said in court, including the questions of prosecutors, lawyers and judges and replies from the witnesses.
The presiding judge asked witnesses to make sure they wait for their words to be translated before continuing their testimony.
Both the lay and professional judges questioned the witnesses Wednesday, including one of the alleged victims and the mother of the defendant. They asked questions after the direct and cross-examinations were finished.
They took turns asking if the victim knew if the one who punched him in the face and broke his jaw was the defendant, to which he replied he wasn’t sure.
The lay judges also asked tough questions to the defendant’s mother, apparently believing she was key to understanding his upbringing.
They learned that she came to work in Japan only few months after the accused was born in Manila, where she left him with his grandmother. The mother had only visited him a few times before inviting him to live in Japan with her when he was 14 years old. She was at that time married to a Japanese man, with whom her son didn’t get along.
“Did you think about the possibility that it might be hard for your son to come to Japan when he was already in the second year of junior high school and to adjust to a new life here?” one male lay judge asked. To that, she replied: “A little bit.”
When it was learned that she talked with immigration authorities about sending him back to the Philippines, considering that an option, one of the lay judges, a woman who appeared to be in her 50s or 60s, asked calmly: “Did you, as a mother, intend to give up raising your child (by doing that)?” The mother said no.
“Did you think your son will lead a happy life back in the Philippines?” the lay judge continued. The mother said no.
The lay judge added: “Can you, as a mother, love him enough to correct him from now on?” To this question, the witness said that she could.
Lay judge trials handed down their first suspended sentences Wednesday.
The Kobe District Court and Yamaguchi District Court each sentenced a defendant to three years for attempted murder.
In Kobe, Masao Sunano, 40, was accused of hitting his 74-year-old father on the head with an ashtray while the victim slept at their home. Sunano had intended to commit suicide afterward. In Yamaguchi, Masashi Iwasaki, 63, was tried on charges that he stabbed his wife, Yurie, 60, in the neck while she was asleep in their home in Shunan in the early morning of May 15. He is believed to have tried to kill her because he was exhausted from caring for her.