Legal Interpreting in Japan

When:15 Apr 2014, 3pm - 4pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310 (map ref C20)
Who:Professor Makiko Mizuno, Kinjo Gakuin University
Makiko Mizuno

Interpreting & Translation Seminar

Abstract: In Japan, the issue of legal interpreting started to draw attention during the time of the bubble economy, an economic boom that occurred in the period between the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s. The boom attracted a large number of immigrant workers from all over the world and many of them did not speak Japanese. This resulted in communication problems in various aspects of social life, and with the increase of criminal cases involving non-Japanese-speaking people, communication breakdown in court and at police interviews became a very serious problem. In the last two decades, the government has been addressing this problem of language barrier and has established a system to recruit legal interpreters and appoint them to all the cases involving non-Japanese speaking defendants or witnesses. Regarding quality control, however, there is still no well-developed public certification system nor systematic training programs for interpreters. Without a certification system, there is no way to detect and dismiss poorly performing interpreters.

In 2009, Japan introduced the lay judge system in which six citizens randomly selected from the voter rolls serve as lay judges and, along with three professional judges, decide whether a defendant is guilty. In the case of a guilty verdict, the lay judges also collaborate with the professional judges in deciding the sentence. This new system has posed new challenges for court interpreting. Unlike conventional trials that emphasize documentary evidence, testimony is regarded to be more important in the lay judge trial because the evidence orally presented in court is the only evidence that the judgment can be based on, which means that responsibilities of court interpreters are enhanced. There have been several court cases in which poor interpreting became a problem and some of them were appealed to a higher court.

This presentation will illustrate the past development and the present state and future prospects of the system of legal interpreting in Japan. It will also discuss interpreter-related problems in recent years and attitudes of legal practitioners toward legal interpreting. Findings of recent studies on court interpreting will be presented, too.

 Bio: Makiko Mizuno earned a master’s degree in International Relations at Ritsumeikan University, Japan. She worked as a conference interpreter and a court interpreter and has been training professional interpreters for more than twenty years. In 2004, she became associate professor in the Department of Human Society at Senri Kinran University, Osaka. In 2008, she became professor in the College of Humanities at Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya, where she has been teaching interpreting and translation theories and skills to undergraduate and graduate students up to the present time. She is the Vice President of the Japan Association for Language and Law. Her research interests include linguistic analysis of court interpreting and community interpreting in general. Her current research focus is on the issue of quality control of court interpreting and training of court interpreters and end users. Her publications include Legal Interpreting (2004), Introduction to Community Interpreting (2008), Practices of Legal Interpreting (2010), and journal articles related to interpreting and forensic linguistics.

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