Interpreters in Japan pushed to limit in mock trial for foreign defendant.
Thread poster: Krzysztof Łesyk
Krzysztof Łesyk  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 18:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
Jul 9, 2008

I found an interesting (or shall I say infuriating) article today and I decided to share, with some comments (emphasis in the text mine). Before I start ranting, let me post the article in question though (the original can be found on this page.)

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TOKYO — 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.

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And now my comments. Who on earth thought two interpreters for a trial lasting a whole day is a good idea? Do these people realize how hard it is to interpret knowing that what you say may affect a life of other person? My god, we have death penalty in Japan, so theoretically it might even bring someone one (or more) step closer to the gallows! Regardless of whether the interpretation was simultaneous or consecutive, two people for a whole day is overkill. I have never interpreted for a court (and I don't think I ever will), but I know that after a 4-5 hour conference, even on a topic I'm familiar with, I'm completely drained and unable to think clearly. I think those poor court interpreters will not be pushed to the limit - they will be mercilessly shover over the limit...

What are your thought on the subject - am I overreacting, or is this situation as ridiculous as I think it is?


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends Jul 9, 2008

If there were two interpreters, then I would suppose only one at a time would be working and they could trade off every half hour. That would be reasonable. If the trial lasted longer than a regular workday it would be a bit tiring for all involved, but they could still make it OK I would think.

I've gone as much as to nine and a half hours straight by MYSELF, NO breaks, in conference interpreting. I never want to do that again, but I lived through it and I was still intelligible.

If for some reason the two of them had to be working at the same time then it would be grossly unreasonable, but in all the courts I have ever seen only one person can speak at a time, so I do not know how that could be.


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Jonathan Sanders  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:30
Too much, but not surprising Jul 10, 2008

For court interpreting from morning until night, two people sounds insufficient. The UN limits itself to two 3-hour sessions per day without reinforcement, and that's working in relatively comfortable conditions (a booth, etc.). Interpreting while just hearing sound through the air is even more tiring, and really should require more manning for longer than a normal work day, especially for something as important as a trial. But nothing suprises me anymore.

Here in Spain, court interpreting has been outsourced to a company which pays 10€/hour and has been criticized, among other things, for hiring "interpreters" with a criminal record. There was a Kurdish interpreter who was arrested as soon as he started his first day of work at the police because he had an outstanding warrant and 5 priors. That doesn't even mention the fact that court interpreters here are not required to do simultaneous, and often do only summary, 3rd person consecutive at the judge's request.

I hate to say it, but the sad fact of the matter is that poor, unassuming people in this world, mostly are subject to poor, unassuming interpreting. Famous and rich defendants get interpreters who have worked in international organizations and ministries of foreign affairs, working in decent to top conditions and well-paid. Most national court interpreters are not in the same situation (although US interpreters are getting closer). It's the same job, so what's the difference?


[Edited at 2008-07-10 17:47]


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Certified? Jul 10, 2008

Don't you have to be a certified translator/interpreter to work in the courts in Spain?

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Jonathan Sanders  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:30
No, you don't Jul 12, 2008

Tatty wrote:

Don't you have to be a certified translator/interpreter to work in the courts in Spain?


In a word, no. You don't have to be a certified interpreter. The legislation is rather flimsy and allows a judge to swear in anyone as a court interpreter. There are intérpretes jurados, but they only obtain their title in one of two ways; a test at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which includes no interpreting, or the Spanish licenciatura de traducción e interpretación which only requires a couple of interpreting courses, but at least is something. As a result, intérpretes jurados, who can make much more money translating for private clients, and do not generally work in the courts because the courts won't pay their rates. Furthermore, because of the imbalance of interpreting vs. translation in their training and testing, many intérpretes jurados are not actually interpreters at all, and exclusively do translation. So there is no real certification for court interpreters specifically. But even if there were, the real problem is the rate they pay. There are tons of qualified German, English, and French interpreters in Spain, but as the saying goes, when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Or Lo barato sale caro, which is the same idea.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
How much is peanuts? Jul 12, 2008

Do you reckon you could give me an idea of how much peanuts is please?

Thanks for you information.


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Jonathan Sanders  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:30
10€/hour Jul 14, 2008

Tatty wrote:

Do you reckon you could give me an idea of how much peanuts is please?

Thanks for you information.


How does 10€/hour sound?


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
English to Hungarian
+ ...
My heart goes out for the poor things... Jul 15, 2008

Krzysztof Łesyk wrote:
court session extending the whole day pushed them to the limit of concentration and stamina.

What are your thought on the subject - am I overreacting, or is this situation as ridiculous as I think it is?


Well, what about a trial lasting for seven weeks with two interpreters to alternate, no booth, just a microphone to convey the translation to half a dozen defendants wearing earphones?

Or one interpreter interpreting for one defendant continuously during a five weeks trial?

Or three interpreters interpreting virtually side by side for one or two defendants each, continuously for a day or two (or more)?

Or conferences lasting three-four days, two interpreters alternating?

I have done it all, but not for peanuts!

My pet hate is when there are a number of interpreters in a courtroom, all sitting with the defendants in the dock, speaking all at once; because your colleagues’ voices are coming from close proximity, not to mention your own, while the actual speaker is talking to the judge in a muffled voice at breakneck speed, quoting obscure cases from the 19th century, with his back to you. Arrrrgh!!!

I don't think you really know the realities of interpreting.
There is nothing unusual about the above scenarios.


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Krzysztof Łesyk  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 18:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
No need for vitriol... Jul 16, 2008

juvera wrote:
I have done it all, but not for peanuts!


More power to you, but just the fact you (or anyone else) did it does not make it right or acceptable to me. I still think that making interpreters work in such conditions might be very detrimental to the quality of their work, regardless of the amount of money they are offered as compensation. And really, I don't see the need for sarcastic comments along the lines of "My heart goes out for the poor things." - I might be less experienced than you, but that gives you no right to mock me.

I don't think you really know the realities of interpreting. There is nothing unusual about the above scenarios.

Well, I actually do know the reality of interpreting, just not court interpreting. I have experience working as an interpreter for large construction projects, but I would never accept any work from a court.

Anyway, this situation not being unusual, as you say, only makes it sadder. Yes, I am an idealist, but I believe interpreters (and translators too, for that matter) should not be treated like machines that can work as long as it's necessary and when they break down they can always be replaced. Regardless of whether they are interpreting during a conference, sightseeing tour or a court case. This is especially important in in courts - the judge and jury rely just on what you tell them and any slips could have dramatic consequences for the defendant...

All in all, no, I didn't know that such situations are unusual, but to me it still doesn't make them right. In any other situation I'd simply say "as long as they are people willing to work in such conditions, let them" and leave it at that, but in this particular situation, when a mistake by an overworked interpreter might affect the outcome of a trial, I'd like to see some improvement - the stress of interpreting for a court of law is enough, those people shouldn't be further burdened with overwork...


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Sorry... Jul 16, 2008

I am sorry, that you took it so personally. Apart from saying that you may not know all the realities of interpreting, there was nothing personal about it.
As for vitriol, I guess I should have added a few smilies to indicate that my post was not intended to hurt anybody. I thought that a little irony in the circumstances is not out of place.

I suppose I was lucky that before I started to work in courts, I gained enormous experience doing telephone interpreting for several years, and again, you never know, how long a call will last. There were years, when I interpreted for immigration and a call at three in the morning may have lasted until seven, when the family was coming down for breakfast. Working on the phone seven or eight hours a day wasn't unusual.

The realities are that a court is not going to engage "floating" interpreters for a trial. They either engage an interpreter for a defendant, or two interpreters, if there are more defendants, occasionally more interpreters, one for each defendant. Depends on the seriousness and expected length of trial, and of course, how many languages are involved. You learn what is vital and what is not, and won't spell out every sub-sub-paragraph number they quote, because the defendant or witness won't remember it anyway, and if it is important, it will be written down. When every word is vital, you have the luxury of being able to correct yourself, because these are the defendant/witness in front of the court scenarios, and the interpreting is consecutive.

The police would call you to interpret, and the interpreting may take ten minutes, or two-three days. Obviously, if it is more than one day, there are breaks, but you may end up spending your evenings translating the statement you took during the day. I often travel 3-4 hours to a place, interpret for the police and witness and write down the statement at the same time, for hours, and travel home again, for 3-4 hours. The only thing I worry about is to catch the last train to get me home on the same day.

At conferences, there are always two people for a language.
It is up to them, how frequently they alternate. Nobody in their right mind would do a conference alone. In practice, you are likely to spend the best part of the day in the booth, but actually interpreting between 3-4 hours. The number of days is irrelevant, your experience in the subject and the speaker's manner, accent, speed, etc. is much more important.
I rather work four days at a conference and take the rest of the week off than go to five different venues during the week.

I have to emphasize, my experiences are not exceptional. The point is, as an interpreter, you only take on jobs you feel confident enough to be able to do. Experience helps a lot.
Basically, all conferences are organised in the same vein.
All court and police interpreters work in similar circumstances.Some take on more work, some less.
And not everybody can do it. That's that.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
English to Hungarian
+ ...
On the other hand... Jul 16, 2008

Krzysztof Łesyk wrote:
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.

‘‘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.’’
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.


I find the above scenario unbelievable, and frightening for these reasons:

1. The translation of documents should not be part of the time assigned for the trial. Translations of existing documents can be done beforehand. The translation of the verdict can be done afterwards, because the essence of the verdict is: guilty (or not, as the case may be). Apart from that, the sentence may need explanation, but it can be summarised, and the guilty party will need his/her lawyer to explain it in detail. Plenty of time for that, I am afraid, if he/she is sent down.

2. The notion of using lay judges in such cases is simply terrifying. One cannot judge (sorry) or criticise other countries' legal system, but that may have been part of the problem the interpreters were dealing with. I am not qualified to speak of the other implications.


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Outis
Local time: 02:30
Japanese to English
+ ...
This goes off topic, but... Jul 19, 2008

I'm not fond of the English translation, "lay judges," unless it's a real legal jargon with a solid basis. It's basically a jury trial, and these lay judges are the jurors.

juvera wrote:

2. The notion of using lay judges in such cases is simply terrifying.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
English to Hungarian
+ ...
That makes all the difference Jul 21, 2008

Outis wrote:

I'm not fond of the English translation, "lay judges," unless it's a real legal jargon with a solid basis. It's basically a jury trial, and these lay judges are the jurors.


I suppose you are right. Pity that the translation is misleading.


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