The Importance of Impartiality in Legal Interpreting
If you’re preparing to become a legal interpreter, you may have heard of the interpreter code of ethics. These are a series of best practices that all interpreters, not just legal interpreters, are expected to abide by in their work.
What are they for?
Interpreters have a very important role in the lives of non-English speaking individuals in the United States. In many instances interpreters are the only outlet through which a person is able to communicate. As such, professional and certified interpreters hold a great deal of responsibility for, and power over, limited English proficient (LEP) individuals.
In some scenarios interpreters could change the message of what an individual is trying to say to suit their own needs or biases. Unfortunately, it is unlikely anyone would be able to tell if an interpreter did do such a thing.
Thus, the interpreter code of ethics is the standard and method by which professional interpreters perform their job to avoid such scenarios.
Among other things, it dictates that interpreters must be impartial when rendering speech into English or the LEP individual’s native language. Interpreting the exact message, virtually word for word, is expected.
What could possibly affect the impartiality of an interpreter’s work?
While there are many answers to this question, when it comes to the work of legal interpreters specifically there are a variety of external factors that put the impartiality of an interpretation into question.
And in legal settings, the way a legal interpreter relays information can lead to serious consequences.
Mis-Interpretation in a Court of Law
If you’ve ever had to go in for jury duty, you’re familiar with the process of lawyers and judges including and excluding individuals based on how they are expected to make judgments about the proceedings.
One of the major reasons a person can be excluded from a jury is if there is reason to believe he or she will be impartial towards or against the defendant.
Similarly to how an individual will likely not sit on a jury if they are biased, legal interpreters should never interpret for a legal proceeding in which they cannot be impartial.
Even if a legal interpreter does perform interpretation according to the interpreter code of ethics, there are still external factors that can impact their impartiality in interpreting.
How Can a Legal Interpreter Show Bias?
There are a variety of instances in which an issue of impartiality in interpreting could arise such as:
- The interpreter is a friend, associate, or relative of a party, counsel for a party, a witness, or a victim involved in the proceedings
- The interpreter is a witness to the crime in a criminal case
- The interpreter is also an attorney in the case at hand
- The interpreter has previously been retained for employment by one of the parties involved
- The interpreter has some personal or financial stake in one party’s success
In the aforementioned instances, or if for any other reason the interpreter’s independence of judgment would be compromised in the course of providing services, a legal interpreter should not provide his or her services.
If a legal interpreter believes there is a conflict of interest regarding their work on a specific case, this must be disclosed to the judge and other participating parties before accepting a legal interpreting job.
Becoming a Legal Interpreter and Abiding by the Interpreter Code of Ethics
Learning the skill of interpretation, and then learning the ethics and standards by which it must be performed, are two different things.
The former focuses on practicing the physical and mental abilities required to relay messages between languages. Legal interpreters must be extremely focused, have a broad legal and general vocabulary in both English and the target languages, and be familiar with processes of legal proceedings.
Performing an ethical interpretation on the other hand relates more to the choices an interpreter makes while interpreting. Just because you can interpret, doesn’t mean you’re doing so in an ethical manner.
For legal interpreters, knowing when there may be a conflict of interest regarding their interpretation is extremely important.
Not only can it potentially affect the livelihood of LEP individuals, but also the careers and reputations of the interpreters themselves.
Legal interpreters should always abide by the interpreter code of ethics to ensure that the messages they are relaying are impartial and unbiased. They should also be extremely aware of the factors involved in a particular job, and excuse themselves from the assignment should any potential for impartiality in interpreting arise.
One of the best ways you can learn how to become a legal interpreter, as well as learn the interpreter code of ethics, is through a court interpreters program such as a legal interpreter training course.
Language Connections offers a 7 week Legal and Court Interpreter Training Program that focuses on teaching students the skills needed to interpret, details of the Massachusetts legal system, and of course the ethics by which a legal interpreter is expected to work.
All legal interpreter training courses are taught by professional court interpreters. This allows students exposure to real-life scenarios, which helps them better prepare for working in the Massachusetts legal system.
Learning how to provide legal interpretation services in an un-biased manner is extremely important. Don’t let your interpretation fall victim to impartiality – start your interpreter training today!
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