Nothing was lost in translation in Saitama mugging trial, peers believe


The lay judges in the four-day trial of a 20-year-old Filipino said Friday they felt their new court duty was a valuable experience and, although the defendant’s case required translators, no question was left unanswered.

The two male and four female lay judges and the one female and two male professional judges handed the man a five-year prison term with the hope that he will regret his crimes — muggings involving bodily injury — and get on the right track while behind bars.

The Saitama District Court trial was the first involving a non-Japanese under the lay judge system, which debuted in May.

A key concern during the trial was the accuracy of the interpretations provided by the experienced legal translation experts, because even a minor difference in nuance could influence the decision of the judges.

The defendant, who came to Japan when he was 14-years-old, spoke mostly in Japanese during the proceedings. But two court-appointed Tagalog translators took turns translating the entire trial for his benefit.

There were a few times when some of the questions posed to the accused by the lay judges had to be repeated, or rephrased for translation.

“I thought that maybe Japanese was difficult, and maybe some expressions don’t have the exact words (in Tagalog),” said one lay judge, in her 50s, who declined to be named.

Taichi Shimizu, 22, said he observed the defendant’s expressions carefully to see if he understood everything that was said.

Shimizu, a company employee, said he, too, benefited by the translation. “This was my first trial experience, but it was actually good to have the translators, because things proceeded slowly and it gave us time to understand what was being said,” he said.

One of the two alternates, whose name was withheld, said that for future reference he would advise people to use plain words when posing questions so it will make it easier for the translators to convey their meaning.

Lay judge Yuji Kamata, a company employee in his 30s, said the case made him wonder if foreigners like the defendant who came to Japan in their youth were able to receive a proper language education.

“For young kids, their parents won’t be able to teach them Japanese, and depending on their circumstances, not all of them can attend school. But learning the language is very important, so I think it’s important that we prepare some kind of care and support for such people,” he said.

Kamata said he believes the defendant can get back on the right track if he makes the effort. “I believe the best compensation the defendant can do for the victims is to fully atone for his crimes and become rehabilitated. That’s best for him, too,” he said.

The lay and professional judges found the defendant guilty of attacking two men in the cities of Saitama and Toda and robbing them of their money and belongings in separate occasions in December, with the help of two juvenile accomplices. The lay judges ranged in age between their 20s and 60s.