The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office is collaborating with the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies to secure interpreters for criminal investigations, a senior official said Friday.
Criminal cases involving foreign visitors and residents have remained steady in recent years, but demand for certain languages has recently jumped, the official said.
In one case, prosecutors needed to ask an interpreter from Kyushu to come to Tokyo.
Under a deal reached in April, the university, known for its expertise in foreign language education, will refer graduates with interpretation skills to the prosecutor’s office so they can help suspects, victims and witnesses in criminal investigations communicate.
The university has around 100 graduates registered for referral. Although many have signed up to offer help in English or Chinese, some can handle exotic languages like Persian and Mongolian for which interpreters are relatively hard to find.
The prosecutor’s office is pinning its hopes on the arrangement to alleviate the shortage of professional interpreters. Some were actually hired after passing a qualification screening held by the prosecutor’s office beforehand.
As part of the collaboration, the university has been training prosecutors to speak slowly and in plain language when interrogating foreign suspects with the aid of an interpreter.
Interpreters for criminal investigations are solicited by each police department and prosecutor’s office and placed on a list after being interviewed and completing other processes.
In recent years, doubts have been raised about the quality of the interpreters being provided in the legal system.
The issue was highlighted earlier this year when a murder trial involving a Chinese suspect in Osaka exposed a number of mistakes and omissions made by police-assigned interpreters.
Some experts say only interpreters with government qualifications should be allowed to participate in criminal investigations.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office hopes to strengthen cooperation with the university ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Japan welcomed a record 24.04 million tourists in 2016, up 21.8 percent from the previous year, and the government is aiming for reel in 40 million by 2020.
“Securing high-quality interpreters is an urgent task,” the senior official from the prosecutor’s office said.
In the court system, the current pool of interpreters isn’t qualified enough to speak for defendants and runs the risk of introducing errors into the trials, according to veterans in the field.
Of the 59,462 defendants tried by district courts or summary courts in 2015, 2,694 from 73 different countries required translators to speak on their behalf,court records show.