This Code is based on the "Model Code of Professional Responsibilityfor Interpreters in the Judiciary" developed by the National Center forState Courts with grant funding from the State Justice Institute, as setforth in the publication, Court Interpretation: Model Guides for Policyand Practice in the State Courts, Copyright 1995, National Center for StateCourts.
Many persons who come before the courts are partially or completelyexcluded from full participation in the proceedings due to limited Englishproficiency or a speech or hearing impairment. It is essential that theresulting communication barrier be removed, as far as possible, so thatthese persons are placed in the same position as similarly situated personsfor whom there is no such barrier.(1) Asofficers of the court, interpreters help ensure that such persons may enjoyequal access to justice, and that court proceedings and court support servicesfunction efficiently and effectively. Interpreters are highly skilled professionalswho fulfill an essential role in the administration of justice.
This code shall guide and be binding upon all persons, agencies andorganizations who administer, supervise use, or deliver interpreting servicesto the judiciary.
The black letter principles of the Model Code on which this Code isbased are principles of general application that are unlikely to conflictwith specific requirements of rule or law in the states, in the opinionof the code's drafters. Therefore, the use of the term "shall" is reservedfor the black letter principles. Statements in the commentary use the term"should" to describe behavior that illustrates or elaborates upon the principles.The commentaries are intended to convey what the drafters of this modelcode believe are probable and expected behaviors. Wherever a court policyor routine practice appears to conflict with the commentary in this code,it is recommended that the reasons for the policy as it applies to courtinterpreters be examined.
Canon 1. Accuracy and completeness.
Interpreters shall render a complete and accurate interpretation orsight translation, without altering, omitting, or adding anything to whatis stated or written, and without explanation.
The interpreter has a twofold duty: (1) to ensure that the proceedingsin English reflect precisely what was said by a non-English speaking person,and (2) to place the non-English speaking person on an equal footing withthose who understand English. This creates an obligation to conserve everyelement of information contained in a source language communication whenit is rendered in the target language.
Therefore, interpreters are obligated to apply their best skills andjudgment to preserve faithfully the meaning of what is said in court, includingthe style or register of speech. Verbatim, "word for word" or literal oralinterpretations are not appropriate when they distort the meaning of thesource language, but every spoken statement - even if it appears non-responsive,obscene, rambling, or incoherent - should be interpreted. This includesapparent misstatements.
Interpreters should never interject their own words, phrases, or expressions.If the need arises to explain an interpreting problem (e.g., a term orphrase with no direct equivalent in the target language or a misunderstandingthat only the interpreter can clarify), the interpreter should ask thecourt's permission to provide an explanation. Interpreters should conveythe emotional emphasis of the speaker without reenacting or mimicking thespeaker's emotions, or dramatic gestures.
The obligation to preserve accuracy includes the interpreter's dutyto correct any error of interpretation discovered by the interpreter duringthe proceeding. Interpreters should demonstrate their professionalism byobjectively analyzing any challenge to their performance.
Canon 2. Representation of qualifications.
Interpreters shall accurately and completely represent their certifications,training, and pertinent experience.
Acceptance of a case by an interpreter conveys linguistic competencyin legal settings. Withdrawing or being asked to withdraw from a case afterit begins causes a disruption of court proceedings and is wasteful of scarcepublic resources. It is, therefore, essential that interpreters presenta complete and truthful account of their training, certification, and experienceprior to appointment so the officers of the court can fairly evaluate theirqualifications for delivering interpreting services.
Canon 3. Impartiality and avoidance of conflict of interest.
Interpreters shall be impartial and unbiased and shall refrain fromconduct that may give an appearance of bias. Interpreters shall discloseany real or perceived conflict of interest.
The interpreter serves as an officer of the court, and the interpreter'sduty in a court proceeding is to serve the court and the public to whichthe court is a servant. This is true regardless of whether the interpreteris publicly retained at government expense or retained privately at theexpense of one of the parties.
The interpreter should avoid any conduct or behavior that presents theappearance of favoritism toward any of the parties. Interpreters shouldmaintain professional relationships with their clients and should not takean active part in any of the proceedings. The interpreter should discouragea non-English speaking party's personal dependence.
During the course of the proceedings interpreters should not conversewith parties, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, or with friends or relativesof any party, except in the discharge of their official functions. It isespecially important that interpreters, who are often familiar with attorneysor other members of the courtroom work group, including law enforcementofficers, refrain from casual and personal conversations with anyone incourt that may convey an appearance of a special relationship or partialityto any of the court participants.
The interpreter should strive for professional detachment. Verbal andnon-verbal displays of personal attitudes, prejudices, emotions, or opinionsshould be avoided at all times.
Should an interpreter become aware that a proceeding participant viewsthe interpreter as having a bias or being biased, the interpreter shoulddisclose that knowledge to the appropriate judicial authority and counsel.
Any condition that interferes with the objectivity of an interpreterconstitutes a conflict of interest. Before providing services in a matter,court interpreters must disclose to all parties and presiding officialsany prior involvement, whether personal or professional, that could bereasonably construed as a conflict of interest. This disclosure shouldnot include privileged or confidential information.
The following are circumstances that are presumed to create actual orapparent conflicts of interest for interpreters where interpreters shouldnot serve:
1. The interpreter is a friend, associate, or relative of a party orcounsel for a party involved in the proceedings;
2. The interpreter has served in an investigative capacity for any partyinvolved in the case;
3. The interpreter has previously been retained by a law enforcementagency to assist in the preparation of the criminal case at issue;
4. The interpreter or the interpreter's spouse or child has a financialinterest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding,or any other interest that would be affected by the outcome of the case;
5. The interpreter has been involved in the choice of counsel or lawfirm for that case.
Interpreters should disclose to the court and other parties when theyhave previously been retained for private employment by one of the partiesin the case.
Interpreters should not serve in any matter in which payment for theirservices is contingent upon the outcome of the case.
An interpreter who is also an attorney should not serve in both capacitiesin the same matter.
Canon 4. Professional demeanor.
Interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with thedignity of the court and shall be as unobtrusive as possible.
Interpreters should know and observe the established protocol, rules,and procedures for delivering interpreting services. When speaking in English,interpreters should speak at a rate and volume that enables them to beheard and understood throughout the courtroom, but the interpreter's presenceshould otherwise be as unobtrusive as possible. Interpreters should workwithout drawing undue or inappropriate attention to themselves. Interpretersshould dress in a manner that is consistent with the dignity of the proceedingsof the court.
Interpreters should avoid obstructing the view of any of the individualsinvolved in the proceedings.
Interpreters are encouraged to avoid personal or professional conductthat could discredit the court.
Canon 5. Confidentiality.
Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged andother confidential information.
The interpreter must protect and uphold the confidentiality of all privilegedinformation obtained during the course of her or his duties. It is especiallyimportant that the interpreter understand and uphold the attorney-clientprivilege which requires confidentiality with respect to any communicationbetween attorney and client. This rule also applies to other types of privilegedcommunications.
Interpreters must also refrain from repeating or disclosing informationobtained by them in the course of their employment that may be relevantto the legal proceeding.
In the event that an interpreter becomes aware of information that suggestsimminent harm to someone or relates to a crime being committed during thecourse of the proceedings, the interpreter should immediately disclosethe information to an appropriate authority within the judiciary who isnot involved in the proceeding and seek advice in regard to the potentialconflict in professional responsibility.
Canon 6. Restriction of public comment.
Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinionconcerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged, even when thatinformation is not privileged or required by law to be confidential.
Canon 7. Scope of practice.
Interpreters shall limit themselves to interpreting or translating andshall not give legal advice, express personal opinions to individuals forwhom they are interpreting, or engage in any other activities which maybe construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translatingwhile serving as an interpreter.
Since interpreters are responsible only for enabling others to communicate,they should limit themselves to the activity of interpreting or translatingonly. Interpreters should refrain from initiating communications whileinterpreting unless it is necessary for ensuring an accurate and faithfulinterpretation.
Interpreters may be required to initiate communications during a proceedingwhen they find it necessary to seek assistance in performing their duties.Examples of such circumstances include seeking direction when unable tounderstand or express a word or thought, requesting speakers to moderatetheir rate of communication or repeat or rephrase something, correctingtheir own interpreting errors, or notifying the court of reservations abouttheir ability to satisfy an assignment competently. In such instances theyshould make it clear that they are speaking for themselves.
An interpreter may convey legal advice from an attorney to a persononly while that attorney is giving it. An interpreter should not explainthe purpose of forms, services, or otherwise act as counselors or advisorsunless they are interpreting for someone who is acting in that officialcapacity. The interpreter may translate language on a form for a personwho is filling out the form, but may not explain the form or its purposefor such a person.
The interpreter should not personally serve to perform official actsthat are the official responsibility of other court officials including,but not limited to, court clerks, pretrial release investigators or interviewers,or probation counselors.
Canon 8. Assessing and reporting impediments to performance.
Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver theirservices. When interpreters have any reservation about their ability tosatisfy an assignment competently, they shall immediately convey that reservationto the appropriate judicial authority.
If the communication mode or language of the non-English-speaking personcannot be readily interpreted, the interpreter should notify the appropriatejudicial authority.
Interpreters should notify the appropriate judicial authority of anyenvironmental or physical limitation that impedes or hinders their abilityto deliver interpreting services adequately, e.g., the court room is notquiet enough for the interpreter to hear or be heard by the non-Englishspeaker, more than one person at a time is speaking, or principals or witnessesof the court are speaking at a rate of speed that is too rapid for theinterpreter to adequately interpret. Interpreters should notify the presidingofficer of the need to take periodic breaks to maintain mental and physicalalertness and prevent interpreter fatigue. Interpreters should recommendand encourage the use of team interpreting whenever necessary.
Interpreters are encouraged to make inquiries as to the nature of acase whenever possible before accepting an assignment. This enables interpretersto match more closely their professional qualifications, skills, and experienceto potential assignments and more accurately assess their ability to satisfythose assignments competently.
Even competent and experienced interpreters may encounter cases in whichroutine proceedings suddenly involve technical or specialized terminologyunfamiliar to the interpreter, e.g., the unscheduled testimony of an expertwitness. When such instances occur, interpreters should request a briefrecess to familiarize themselves with the subject matter. If familiaritywith the terminology requires extensive time or more intensive research,interpreters should inform the presiding officer.
Interpreters should refrain from accepting a case if they feel the languageand subject matter of that case are likely to exceed their skills or capacities.Interpreters should feel no compunction about notifying the presiding officerif they feel unable to perform competently, due to lack of familiaritywith terminology, preparation, or difficulty in understanding a witnessor defendant.
Interpreters should notify the presiding officer of any personal biasthey may have involving any aspect of the proceedings. For example, aninterpreter who has been the victim of a sexual assault may wish to beexcused from interpreting in cases involving similar offenses.
Canon 9. Duty to report ethical violations.
Interpreters shall report to the proper judicial authority any effortto impede their compliance with any law, any provision of this code, orany other official policy governing court interpreting and legal translating.
Because the users of interpreting services frequently misunderstandthe proper role of the interpreter, they may ask or expect the interpreterto perform duties or engage in activities that run counter to the provisionsof this code or other laws, regulations, or policies governing court interpreters.It is incumbent upon the interpreter to inform such persons of his or herprofessional obligations. If, having been apprised of these obligations,the person persists in demanding that the interpreter violate them, theinterpreter should turn to a supervisory interpreter, a judge, or anotherofficial with jurisdiction over interpreter matters to resolve the situation.
Canon 10. Professional development.
Interpreters shall continually improve their skills and knowledge andadvance the profession through activities such as professional trainingand education, and interaction with colleagues, and specialists in relatedfields.
Interpreters must continually strive to increase their knowledge ofthe languages they work in professionally, including past and current trendsin technical, vernacular, and regional terminology as well as their applicationwithin court proceedings.
Interpreters should keep informed of all statutes, rules of courts andpolicies of the judiciary that relate to the performance of their professionalduties.
An interpreter should seek to elevate the standards of the professionthrough participation in workshops, professional meetings, interactionwith colleagues, and reading current literature in the field.