Monday, July 21, 2008

New lay judge system in Japan working to incorporate sign language

From The Yomiuri Shimbun:

The first-ever mock trial with a hearing-impaired person taking part as a lay judge was held at the Tokyo District Court on July 17-18, ahead of the introduction of the lay judge system in May 2009.

During the two-day trial, various measures were taken to accommodate the deaf lay judge. A prosecutor read out documents slowly, and three sign-language interpreters translated the deliberations in turn. However, some communication problems were still apparent.

The mock trial revolved around an attempted-murder scenario in which a 70-year-old defendant was accused of stabbing a man. The focal point of the trial was the whether the defendant had murderous intent.

In the courtroom, sign-language interpreters sat in turn behind and to the side of the witness stand so the 42-year-old deaf woman playing the part of a lay judge, who sat next to a professional judge, could see their signing while looking at the defendant.

A prosecutor gave the opening statement, closing argument and other deliberations, pausing between sentences in accordance with the speed of the signing so the deaf lay judge could grasp the content of the documents.

At one point, however, questions were put to the defendant before the interpretation of a witness' statement had ended.

After the mock trial, the deaf woman said: "I think the ability of [sign-language] interpreters will be the key point, so I hope training workshops for such interpreters will be organized."