Former chairman of Nissan Motors Carlos Ghosn has been detained since November 19, 2018, and has been charged with underreporting his income and was rearrested on December 21st for aggravated breach of trust. This news shook the whole world, as he has been one of the most prominent figures in the business world. According to media reports, the language barrier has been problematic in the interrogation. Some reports that an interpreter has been provided for him, and others say that an English-speaking prosecutor has been handling it. This case draws attention to the Japanese judicial interpreter system.
There are three different types of judicial interpreters in criminal cases: investigation interpreter, court interpreter and defense interpreter. Investigation interpreters handle investigations and interrogations by police and prosecutors. These types of interpreters are either the employees of the police or prosecutors’ office, or the outsiders selected from a roster kept at their offices. Defense interpreters, on the other hand, work with defense attorneys to communicate with the defendants. They are registered with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and/or Japan Legal Support Center, commonly known as “Legal Terrace.” Court interpreters are registered with courts. Therefore, in the Japanese judicial system, all these offices hire their own interpreters from separate rosters.
The problem here in Japan is the insufficient level of the interpreters. Since there is no national qualification for judicial interpreters, they cannot be evaluated for their skill level. Furthermore, even though the registered interpreters are predominantly in English-Japanese, over 70% of the entire criminal cases where interpreters are required are in dire need of Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Tagalog speakers. Improvement of their interpretation skills are necessary, and so is securing more interpreters for languages other than English. The bar association and other entities are looking into establishing the national status of judicial interpreters.
Japan’s labor market is about to be open to foreigners, which will result in thousands of foreign workers moving to the country for work. There will be more non-Japanese natives being tangled in the judicial system. Securing a sufficient number of judicial interpreters, and to improve their skill levels, will be much more important then, as they will be a big part of the fate of those non-Japanese speaking defendants in the future.