National / Social Issues

Language professionals call for court interpreter qualification regime

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Legal and linguistic professionals think a qualification system is needed for court interpreters to weed out incompetent ones who might be doing more harm than good, a recent survey says.

According to the poll, conducted in April and May by an association of legal interpreters, about 60 percent of the 92 respondents said some kind of qualification should be required to become a court interpreter, while 18 percent, or 17 pollees, said a “national” qualification is needed.

The respondents consisted of 72 lawyers and 20 linguistic professionals, 12 of whom have been court interpreters.

Currently, no qualification is required to become a court translator. Candidates are interviewed at district courts to assess their language skills and backgrounds. Those who are considered adequate are listed as translators, according to the Supreme Court.

“There was one time when the English translation was inaccurate,” one lawyer wrote in the survey. “I was able to notice the inaccuracy because it was English. But if it had been in a different language, there is no way I would have spotted it.”

Another said court interpreters sometimes omit subtle yet critical nuances.

Lawyer Remi Shiraki, who led the survey, said the government should establish a system to train specialized court interpreters to ensure quality.

“If a defendant is Japanese, we can tell whether the person is feeling really sorry or not by listening to their wording and nuances. But some interpreters change the words of a defendant and the manner in which they speak,” Shiraki said Friday. He said inaccurate translations can affect judges’ impressions. “Legal professionals like us also need to keep in mind that there could be differences in nuance from what a defendant says and what an interpreter says. Otherwise, it could lead to an unexpected result,” she said.

In 2012, among 1,500 defendants whose verdicts were finalized in lay judge trials, 145 used court translators, according to the Supreme Court.

As of April 1, 2013, 3,965 people were registered as court translators nationwide, covering 61 languages, the court said.

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