Errors committed by a court interpreter found in the recent trial of a former member of the Japanese Red Army extremist group underlines the importance of ensuring the accuracy of translations in trials involving foreign defendants or witnesses. Such errors impinge on the ability of a trial to mete out justice and undermines public trust in the judiciary. People and organizations concerned should consider introduction of some form of uniform qualification for people who serve as court interpreters.

The errors took place during the trial at the Tokyo District Court of Tsutomu Shirosaki, 68, who was eventually found guilty of launching a mortar attack against the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta in May 1986. Around the same time that the embassy was attacked, the U.S. Embassy in the Indonesian capital was also targeted by a mortar attack.

For Shirosaki's trial, the court summoned 11 Indonesians as witnesses and chose two persons as interpreters. Since some translations by one of the interpreters were extremely short, the court came to doubt their accuracy and had a third interpreter evaluate them. The evaluation found some 200 errors and omissions regarding the testimony of three Indonesians given on Sept. 29 and 30.