Interpreting ethics is a hot-button issue in the interpreting theory community and always has been. The interpreting industry is, in many ways, unstandardized and unregulated. Having a single, binding ethical code makes a huge difference to the quality of your interpreting and your career itself. Also, the State Justice Institute has their version of the Interpreter Code of Ethics for court interpreting. However, it’s applicable to all interpreting assignments. In this installment of our Interpreting Skills series, we’ll examine the Interpreter Code of Ethics and discuss its points.

Interpreting Skills: Applying the Interpreting Code of Ethics

Code of Ethics – State Justice Institute

The following code is taken from Court Interpretation: Model Guides for Policy and Practice in the State Courts, by William E. Hewitt and staff, State Justice Institute. Publication Number: R-167 ISBN:0-89656-146-1

There are currently eight states that have adopted these canons (or slight variations thereof). They are: Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Virginia. Additionally, California is currently discussing the possibility of modifying its code to include all ten of these canons. There is a commentary following each of the canons in the Model Guides book. I’ve included this explanation before my own, as it explains each of them more completely.

Let’s talk about this a bit: first, as mentioned, we have to understand that the interpreting industry itself is notoriously unregulated. Court interpreting is by far the most regulated form of interpreting–but even that has its pitfalls. We’ve even discussed that there are only eight states that adopted them in any official capacity. However, regardless of if they’re “officially mandated” or not, they’re still excellent guidelines. The interpreting industry as a whole rarely has consistent standards. Even court interpreting standards vary state by state and, occasionally, language by language. This is why offering standardized trainings is important–particularly as they become nationally recognized. Standardized training results in higher quality, consistent interpreting. Every training needs to address these canons and explain their importance. Let’s begin:

  • Canon 1: ACCURACY AND COMPLETENESS

    • Interpreters shall render a complete and accurate interpretation or sight translation, without altering, omitting, or adding anything to what is stated or written, and without explanation.
    • This is self-explanatory; interpret everything you hear. We’ve covered this in a previous installment of the Interpreter Skills series
  • Canon 2: REPRESENTATION OF QUALIFICATIONS

    • Interpreters shall accurately and completely represent their certification, training, and pertinent experience.
    • So, if you’re working with an agency, they’ll take care of this for you. If you’re working fully independently, you’ll have to prepare your file yourself. It’s important to collect as much paperwork as possible (diplomas, certificates, degrees, etc.). This allows you to accurately represent yourself and know your qualifications. Send your file to your agency so they can connect you with potential clients. If you’re independent, prepare to send it to clients at their request.
  • Canon 3: IMPARTIALITY AND AVOIDANCE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST

    • Interpreters shall be impartial and unbiased and shall refrain from conduct that may give an appearance of bias. Interpreters shall disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest.
    • If you ever feel that you’re involved in a conflict of interest during an interpreting assignment, please call your agency immediately. We’ll try to help resolve it and/or send a different interpreter to complete the session. If you’re working independently, tell the client at the assignment start and recuse yourself.
  • Canon 4: PROFESSIONAL DEMEANOR

    • Interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court and shall be as unobtrusive as possible.
    • The role of the interpreter is to be unobtrusive, whether you’re in a courtroom setting or a less-formal assignment. We’ve covered this quite extensively as well through our entire blog series and in our trainings.
  • Canon 5: CONFIDENTIALITY

    • Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged and other confidential information.
    • This ties into HIPAA. Please do not discuss any interpreting session details outside of the assignment.
  • Canon 6: RESTRICTION OF PUBLIC COMMENT

    • Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinion concerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged, even when that information is not privileged or required by law to be confidential.
    • Again–confidentiality, but especially emphasizing public comment. Public comment doesn’t just include the media or even your own social media. Whenever possible, please refrain from sharing details of your cases with absolutely anyone including friends and family.
  • Canon 7: SCOPE OF PRACTICE

    • Interpreters shall limit themselves to interpreting or translating, and shall not give legal advice, express personal opinions to individuals for whom they are interpreting, or engage in any other activities which may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translating while serving as an interpreter.
    • This ties into never rendering an opinion even if you’re a professional with experience related to the case at hand. Your role as the interpreter doesn’t include that experience. You’re there to be a language conduit and occasionally, cultural or linguistic clarifier. You’re there for the language only, not to render professional opinions about anything outside of interpreting.
  • Canon 8: ASSESSING AND REPORTING IMPEDIMENTS TO PERFORMANCE

    • Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver their services. When interpreters have any reservation about their ability to satisfy an assignment competently, they shall immediately convey that reservation to the appropriate judicial authority.
    • Being an interpreter requires an intense and particular kind of honesty, including honesty with yourself. You’re the best judge of your abilities. It’s part of your job to assess yourself and honestly report when you feel compromised in any way.
  • Canon 9. DUTY TO REPORT ETHICAL VIOLATIONS

    • Interpreters shall report to the proper judicial authority any effort to impede their compliance with any law, any provision of this code, or any other official policy governing court interpreting and legal translating.
    • In this case, please report ethical violations to your project manager if you’re with an agency. If you’re working independently, report ethical violations to the client or their supervising party.
  • Canon 10. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

    • Interpreters shall continually improve their skills and knowledge and advance the profession through activities such as professional training and education, and interaction with colleagues and specialists in related fields.
    • Professional development is important and continued study is a vital part of being an interpreter. Taking interpreting courses allows you to re-examine your career from a new perspective and hone your skills. Researchers and professionals publish new works every month. This research examines everything from the role of the interpreter during COVID-19 to effective practices for working with different populations. Keeping yourself up to date is the best thing you can do to stay focused, fresh, and confident on assignment.

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