Many jurisdictions have an official code of conduct that court interpreters need to follow. While the code of conduct may differ slightly from state to state, the core principles remain the same.
Even if you are not a court interpreter yourself and only work with them, it is a good idea to become familiar with their code of conduct. Knowing what to expect of interpreters in court can help to avoid confusion or bridge divides.
Breaking Down the Interpreters’ Code of Conduct
While codes of conduct vary, here are the basics:
In what may be the most obvious point in the code of conduct, interpreters are required to accurately interpret what is said in court without embellishing or omitting anything. Court interpreters must provide the most accurate form of a word in spite of the use of slang, obscene or colloquial language.
Interpreters must try as best as they can to keep the tone, inflections and emotions of each speaker while still speaking clearly.
At times, the people conversing through the interpreter may not be able to understand each other — not because the interpreter is inaccurate, but because they do not speak at the same language level. It is not the court interpreter’s job to simplify statements. A request for an explanation must be relayed back to the court.
Interpreters must maintain an impartial attitude at all times while in court.
While it might be tempting to strike up a friendly conversation with a court interpreter, it is best for the counsel, parties, witnesses or anyone else in the court to avoid unnecessary conversations with interpreters.
While it should perhaps go without saying, court interpreters should only interpret if they are fully able to take on the responsibility.
Interpreters are expected by the court to constantly be striving to improve not only language fluency, but also their knowledge of the various areas within the courtroom and the law. Court interpreters are encouraged to attend workshops, seminars, conferences or classes to keep up their skills.
While fluency in the language of the law as well as the languages being used is necessary, many codes of conduct require court interpreters to have bilingual and legal dictionaries readily available for consultation while in court.
Demeanor & Professionalism
Court interpreters are expected to speak clearly, yet maintain a low profile and be as unobtrusive as possible. They are required to appear on time, be dressed in business attire and be familiar with the layout of the courtroom.
Courtroom codes of conduct often require interpreters to prepare for an assigned case by reviewing any material previously provided by the counsel, including:
- Police reports
- Official complaints
- Interview transcripts
Modes of Interpreting & Address
Interpreters must be comfortable with the chosen mode of interpreting, whether it is consecutive or simultaneous interpreting.
After initially addressing the court and identifying themselves, interpreters are expected to utilize the first person singular when interpreting for a non-English speaker giving testimony in court. In other words, the court interpreter repeats exactly what is being said — the interpreter would say “I do not remember what happened,” as opposed to “The witness says that he does not remember what happened.”
Fatigue, Errors & Other Difficulties
Interpreters are expected to inform the court if they become fatigued and believe the quality of their interpreting may begin to decline.
Interpreters who find that they make an error should correct it at once. If the error was perceived after the testimony, interpreters should request a conference with the judge and counsel to explain the error and make the correction on the record.
Interpreters are often required by a code of conduct to withdraw from any case if they have a lack of preparation or proficiency, trouble understanding the speakers or difficulty in understanding the complexity of conceptual or technical terms used in the case.
If you require professional court interpreting services, contact Legal Language.