Japanese to English legal translator and Japanese court interpreters play an important role in the judicial process. A new lay judge system debuted in Japan in May, 2009. However, this new court system raises a number of concerns about how court interpreters will function within the new trial procedures. Under the new Japanese system, six lay judges and three professional judges will preside over a trial. If the trial case involves foreign defendants with limited Japanese language, knowledge and comprehension – which is often the case in business-related matters – there will be at least one court interpreter present along with a clerk working on a translation of what is being said by all the parties involved in the case.
But the court interpreter’s role in Japan will go beyond oral foreign language translation during a trial. The court interpreter must also attend pre-trial meetings with lawyers and translate many pages of written legal documents into Japanese or another foreign language in advance of the trial.
To avoid increased errors that may occur if only one court interpreter is used during a trial, the Japanese courts should consider using team interpretation, whereby more than one foreign language court interpreter will translate during a trial (ideally, there will be one interpreter to translate from a foreign language into Japanese, one interpreter to translate from Japanese into a foreign language, and at least one more interpreter to make sure that there are no errors or omissions). But finding more than one foreign language court interpreter in small cities with a small number of people fluent in a foreign language may prove difficult.
It will be interesting to see what new professional standards and guidelines for foreign language court interpreters and legal translators in Japan develop from this new trial system.
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