Kyodo: Mock trial for upcoming lay judge translation system puts NJ on trial for drug smuggling!


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Hi Blog. Guffawable article below. I think submitter Mark MT puts it best, so I’ll just cite him:

Although they most likely decided this scenario before the Narita customs [drugs planting] scandal came to light, they couldn’t have picked a worse “hypothetical” case to test. :O

Furthermore, the report that official court interpreters were “pushed to the limit in concentration” doesn’t make me feel like the level of interpretation necessary for a criminal trial will be maintained for all. The people chosen for these jobs must be the best, not feel stress from the procedure.

[A tangent relating to this issue here.]


Interpreters pushed to limit in mock trial for foreign defendant
Japan Today/Kyodo News Thursday 10th July, 06:34 AM JST

Interpreters who took part in the first-ever mock trial for a defendant of foreign nationality ahead of the introduction of lay judges in Japan said Wednesday that a court session extending the whole day pushed them to the limit of concentration and stamina.

The trial was held at the Chiba District Court for two days under a scenario in which a Chinese Singaporean woman pleaded not guilty to a drug smuggling charge after nearly 2 kilograms of amphetamines were found in her suitcase at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture. The woman claimed the drugs were put there by an acquaintance without her knowledge.

Two professional court interpreters translated statements by the defendant, questions by lay judges to the defendant and her replies to the questions.

‘‘In deliberations that run from morning until night, physical strength and concentration are required,’’ one of the interpreters said. ‘‘Unless meticulous steps are taken in arranging breaks and other matters, we’ll be pushed to the limit.’’

It took about two hours for a verdict to be delivered following the end of deliberations.

‘‘It took time to have the verdict and all other documents translated,’’ Presiding Judge Hiroshi Furuta said. ‘‘We need to find a more efficient trial procedure.’’

The panel of lay and professional judges rendered a guilty verdict, saying the defendant made ‘‘unreasonable’’ statements. The woman was sentenced to a prison term of eight years and fined 5 million yen, while prosecutors had sought 13 years in prison and a fine of 7.5 million yen.

The Chiba District Court handles similar cases because of Narita International Airport, the biggest international airport in Japan. Last year, 52 cases involving foreign nationals would have been subject to the lay judge court. Lay judges are scheduled for introduction next year.

Under the citizen judge system, professional judges and lay judges will try such serious crimes as murder, robbery resulting in death, injuries leading to death and arson.

16 comments on “Kyodo: Mock trial for upcoming lay judge translation system puts NJ on trial for drug smuggling!

  • ‘It took time to have the verdict and all other documents translated,’’ Presiding Judge Hiroshi Furuta said. ‘‘We need to find a more efficient trial procedure.’’

    Let me guess, pre-printed fill-in-the-blank guilty verdicts in 20 languages?

  • ‘‘In deliberations that run from morning until night, physical strength and concentration are required,’’ one of the interpreters said. ‘‘Unless meticulous steps are taken in arranging breaks and other matters, we’ll be pushed to the limit.’’

    Wimps. Take your standard breaks and buck up. Perhaps better professional translators ought to be hired? A little off topic, but this is similar to the proposal to offer counseling services for lay judges who might become traumatized after seeing crime scene photos. I guess that’s another difference Japanese people have from NJ all over the world who probably don’t have such counseling services available. I mean, Japanese have seen and read about enough gruesome crimes in Japan. And what about the violence and gore on a Japanese or imported TV show?

  • Maybe I’m missing something, but how does this relate to the “gaijin as guinea pig” issue?

    I am glad that they’re doing dry runs of lay-judge trials with interpreters. I would rather see extensive confusion in the test than extensive confusion at an actual trial.

    And anyone who thinks these interpreters are sub-par must not have done any interpreting themselves. It’s mentally stressing to keep switching between languages for hours on end, even if you are tag-teaming with a partner.

  • I got one question only, was the fact that the local customs officers may have/ probably planted these drugs to “test” their dogs lack of skills? would a Japanese jury believe this? or would the police/prosecutor be allowed to “accidentally lose” this info? Would the defence be allowed to enter this as evidence?

    –As was exposed on Japanese TV this morning (more than three decades after the murder case mentioned went to trial), the prosecution in Japan has control over its own evidence, and can choose not to submit certain information to the judge at its own discretion. This morning, it was clear evidence that would have clearly exonerated the defendant. That is a serious problem with Japan’s judiciary.

    So the answer is, as long as the defense does not have the information in the investigation (which is controlled by the police), the prosecution has an incredible advantage.

  • I agree with Joe Jones I think the mock trial is a good idea and the drug charge is a common scenario.

    I don’t know about the interpretations side of things. I imagine this situation would be stressful for everyone and lots of coffee breaks needed.

  • Interpreting at a professional level is not a skill to be taken lightly. While there are a lot of people that can speak two or more languages fluently, it takes a very special person to listen, translate, and speak in a relatively short time frame and do so continuously over many hours. I was lucky enough to grow up in a situation that allowed me learn and speak in English and Japanese fluently, so many of my friends think my work comes easily for me, but without the years of training I put in I wouldn’t have been able to interpret at the level I am asked to do now. I only know a couple people who can interpret like machines, but they certainly are a minority in the profession. While I can’t really comment on whether these court interpreters’ complaints are warranted, since the article doesn’t provide enough information on how they were being asked to work, I wouldn’t be so quick to call for “better” interpreters without more information, the job is a lot harder than people think.

    –To be sure. I don’t think anyone’s questioning whether or not the job is tough. It is. I think the problem is that Japan has no professional training system or certification system for court interpretation. And it has great potential to deprive somebody of a fair day in court. That wasn’t mentioned in the article, however.

  • i have attended several of my friends court trails recently and im amazed at the low level of interpretation at the district court. my friend even complained to his lawyer that he could not understand the interpreters english when she spoke to him. the lawyer said that it would be imposible to change interpreters after the trial started because it would delay the trial. i dont believe this, again this is nonsense…its one of those only can happen in japan nightmares..

    –The lawyer is lying. You can change interpreters at any time. I’ve seen it done mid-trial on a number of occasions.

  • Michael Weidner says:


    Well, I do agree that translation on the spot is difficult at best, but I don’t think that the comments of complaint on their stress levels are warranted. If being an interpreter is your job, that’s what you’ve been training to do and it should be something that comes fairly easy to you. If they are having this much trouble already with mock trials, then they should prolly find someone who’s more qualified for the position. I could do without another english version of the latest hot PS3 game if I knew that I would not have to worry about not being able to have a skilled interpreter if I have to go to trail for any reason.

    Personally, I’ve done interpretting myself at the professional level and as Kozo Ota did say, it’s not easy. However, since these cases seemingly have people’s lives on the line, perhaps it would better if they had people who were able to translate “like machines” in place so that we don’t have a game of “let’s lock up the gaijin because the details get lost in translation”.

  • Sure the practice trials are a good idea in theory, but I wonder if they ever do a practice trial where the evidence suggests the defendant is not guilty.

  • May be off topic for this thread but some very good news – a NJ has won Japan`s top literary prize, the Akutagawa Prize.

    –Yes, I saw that yesterday. Well done indeed. Yes, I should put up an entry for that… Thanks for bringing it up.

  • `Thanks for bringing it up.`

    Yeah, and meanwhile Kotooshu totally choked….

    Saw something else that may be of interest – a story about Bobby Oregon`s brother catching a perv with a shoe camera on the Yamanote is in all of today`s sports papers. A bit on the trivial side, but there`s certainly nothing wrong with articles about foreigners STOPPING crime.

  • Michael Weidner seems to have confused translation with interpretation. Interpretation involves listening/speaking, translation involves reading/writing. You would be totally screwed if they called in a PS3 translator to interpret for you in a trial.

    Courtroom interpretation is a very skill intensive profession that requires hundreds of hours of practice including a fairly deep understanding of courtroom procedure and law. Just as an example, in California and Oregon, becoming certified as a courtroom interpreter involves taking a written and oral exam in both English and your target language, and the test costs hundreds of dollars just to take. You are tested in English first, then you move on to a written test in the target language, and if you manage to pass that you have to take an oral exam. It differs by state, but usually you are also required to take ethics classes and some kind of intensive language training course.

    And just as Koto Oza says, it is very tiring to continue translation for extended periods of time. Take the UN for example. During meetings, translators usually take a break quite often because as fatigue starts to kick in making a mistake becomes inevitable.

    Also, as a side note, the courtroom interpretation certification in California and Oregon has only been around since the early 90s. Before that they used contracted employees to do the translation.

  • Interesting article in the New York Times about South Korea’s experience with introducing a jury system in criminal trials:

    July 17, 2008
    Justice Is Swift for Novice Korean Jurors

    SUWON, South Korea — When Park Kwang-rual received the summons to court, he immediately started wondering what he had done wrong.

    “I tried to remember, ‘Did I ever hit someone? Not repay a debt? Was someone suing me?’ ” said Mr. Park, a 41-year-old human resources manager. Only when he answered it did he realize it was a jury summons.

    Jung Hae-young, 30, left her summons in a heap of junk mail and did not realize what it was until she had already missed the deadline to seek an exemption. Not sure what it was all about, and reluctant to miss a day of work, she was going to ignore it until she saw the emphatically underlined warning of a $2,000 penalty if she failed to appear.

    This year, with little public preparation, South Korea took its first steps toward adopting a jury system. After about 20 mock trials in the second half of 2007, the first real one with a jury took place in February, followed by a series of others.

    The change is still provisional, though. After a test period of several years, the Supreme Court is to decide which aspects of the system should be made permanent. For the time being, jurors play only an advisory role; judges are not bound to follow jurors’ opinions about verdicts and sentences.

    But legal experts say that citizen participation has already had a discernible impact on the legal process. In a court system with no presumption of innocence, jury trials appear to be leading to a higher rate of acquittals, as jurors debate and question prosecutors’ assumptions.

    “This is an enormous change,” said Cho Kuk, a law professor at Seoul National University. “For the first time ever, people are participating in the courtroom as the main actors.”

    The introduction of jurors is part of a larger effort to transform a judicial system left over from the Japanese colonial era and the military rule that followed, when the courts were often employed as a weapon against political opponents, into one more suited to South Korea’s now vigorous democracy.

    While the administration of the former president, Roh Moo-hyun, had pushed for civic involvement in the courtrooms, the public was hardly consulted in discussions among officials and academics as to what form this should take — even though the lack of public confidence in the judiciary was cited as a main reason for introducing a jury system.

    For years, court proceedings here have been opaque affairs, with verdicts often the result of behind-the-scenes deals. Typically, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers would speak for only a few minutes in open court, otherwise exchanging documents among themselves to settle a case, with no public scrutiny.

    “The community formed a privileged class for themselves as if they were friars speaking only Latin,” said Park Hong-kyu, a law professor at Yeungnam University. Courts were viewed as “a professional arena only for special geniuses,” he added.

    Now that is changing. And not everyone is comfortable with it.

    For one thing, judges and lawyers are not used to explaining their actions to the public. Legal professionals who brief jurors can find the obligation to devote more time to the public aspects of a case a burden.

    But by American standards, the pace of even the new style of South Korean justice can be breathtaking.

    So far, nearly all the jury trials have been concluded within a day, from jury selection in the morning, to the lawyers’ presentations in the afternoon, to jury deliberations in the evening. The jurors, usually five to nine people, are told that if they cannot reach a unanimous verdict within an hour or so, they must consult the judge for guidance.

    Judicial officials defend the fast pace by saying that interviews show that this is what jurors prefer in a country where missing a day of work is almost unthinkable.

    “Most jurors said that they would rather stay on late than come back the next day,” said Kang Il-won of the Supreme Court’s judicial policy office.

    But Professor Park said he believed that the rush stemmed more from the old habit of minimizing time in court. “If this becomes the practice, it could undermine justice,” he said.

    At a murder trial in May here in Suwon, a one-hour drive south of Seoul, the presiding judge, Choi Jai-hyuk, stopped often to explain procedures to the jurors.

    Afterward, the jurors said some of the defense lawyers and prosecutors looked bored. But when the lawyers presented their cases, they clearly took up far more time than the judges had anticipated in laying out the evidence, questioning the defendant and witnesses and delivering closing arguments.

    And so it was the judges’ turn to look impatient. They began vetoing lawyers’ attempts to display more evidence. As 6 p.m. approached, they signaled that they wanted the lawyers to conclude. (An earlier murder trial with a jury in March went past 10 p.m.)

    This time, Judge Choi tried to make sure that things stayed on schedule.

    “Is that absolutely necessary?” he asked when the prosecutor, Yoo Chun-yeol, requested a break.

    “Please wrap it up,” the judge said, as Mr. Yoo delivered his closing statement, arguing for life imprisonment. “You’re way over your allotted time.”

    The hearing ended at 5:40 p.m., and the jurors began their deliberations. By 7:15 p.m., Judge Choi was stationed outside the jurors’ room, waiting to be consulted. A court official peeked in to ask if a verdict had been reached.

    At 7:40 p.m., it had, and at 8:04 p.m. Judge Choi sentenced the defendant to life.

    One juror, Kim Chul-hoe, 36, said the two hours of deliberation was too short. “The precedents the court gave us for reference showed very different rulings for similar murder cases,” he said. But Mr. Kim, a government bureaucrat, admitted that he would not have wanted to spend more than a day on jury duty.

    For lawyers unhappy with the results of these jury trials, there remains the option of appeal to higher courts, where there are no jurors.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    Icarus – “Michael Weidner seems to have confused translation with interpretation.”

    Actually no, I didn’t confuse translation with interpretation. I do know what courtroom interpretation does require. The point I was trying to make was that the right people for the job should be used instead of what they have in place. Keep in mind that I don’t know exactly who these people are, nor their qualifications. However, if they were the right people for the job, they would not be stating that they were having trouble with enduring such a stretch of time. It “comes with the territory” and it something that should be expected.

    If it is somewhat like what the local police here use, people are contracted out and aren’t necissarily the people with the adequate skills to do the work. Albiet, finding those people isn’t easy but since people’s lives do rest in the hands of these people, shouldn’t they be the most qualified? Shouldn’t they be the best of the best? If I had to go to court for some reason (not that I want to), I would want the most qualified person translating for me, not someone who took a couple of classes a AEON and raised their hand when the court was looking for volunteers.

  • The point I’m trying to get across here, though, is that maybe they are using the right people for the job but the current system doesn’t know how to maximize the quality of the interpretation – i.e. maybe the interpreter is made to work for hours and hours at a time without break. From my previous example of the UN we know that if you are looking for quality interpreters you have to give them a break at regular intervals. Even if you were the most amazing interpreter this world has ever seen, if you were told to “Gaman” 我慢 for 8 hours, 5 days a week, I’m thinking you’d start to falter as well.

    The current system is still in its infancy and that’s why these trial-runs are important. If they see that interpreters are getting burned out after X hours, it means they need to fix the system in place and not just tell the interpreter, “You suck if you can’t meet our expectations.” I agree that we need the best people for the job, but raking those best people over hot coals is hardly the ideal way to do things.


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