an interpreter and professional integrity
Thread poster: MonikaSojka

MonikaSojka  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:57
English to Polish
+ ...
Dec 14, 2005

Say you're interpreting at a police station, you know the prisoner because you've interpreted for him in the past, you are aware of the fact that he has numerous previous convictions but for some unknown reason the PNC check had not picked those up so the police are willing to let him off with a caution for some petty crime. The prisoner is asking you not to tell the police you know him.

I'm wondering how to go about it. If I am there to act merely as an interpreter and not to interfere in any way that's fine with me but on the other hand I'm not too sure how far my role extends in that regard.
Fortunately the police realised who the chap was themselves but for future reference let me know what you think.


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samnunns
Local time: 00:57
English to Chinese
+ ...
It is quite a dilemma Dec 14, 2005

Hi Moonia,
I guess my action would depend on what kind of crimes that prisoner had committed and what kind of suspect the police are after. If he's a burglar kind of criminal, I would probably remain silent about his records. But if he was a murderer (or serial killer, rapist... ect) and the police are investigating a homicide(or rape...etc), I may "remind" the police in secret.
I know it sounds stupid and definitely disputable (Who am I to be the judge?), but this is an honest answer.
Best regards.


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Harry Hermawan  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 23:57
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
I'd say... Dec 15, 2005

Moonia wrote:

...let me know what you think.



Well, I don't interpret but this ethics issue is a bit like the cameraman story. Some of you may know already. The story goes a cameraman was faced by a fact that she could do something else instead of doing his job. Let's say she could stop a horrific incident but being professional i.e. taking pictures she has in fact help herself and others by broadening the audience of the incident, to cut the story short it is the same instance as the one you are facing, I think.

Another story a translator has to translate a hate-note (illegal to some extent) for her client, but does her job. A lawyer (barrister/solicitor) has to defend a client that she knows is a crook. There are other countless real life issues.

Anyway, if you don’t like the condition you are in right now, just report it. The fact is that the previous task (interpreting) that you were supposed to do has been done. It’s done. And the reporting issue at hand is a different matter. And if you believe that you need to report, I’d say just report it. Simplistic huh?


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
Question of ethics Dec 15, 2005

Ah, ethics. That sticky subject that makes us doubt ourselves at times. One of the first rules that they teach you as a court interpreter, is that you are there ONLY to interpret. You are not to have any effect on the outcome, you are only an instrument to facilitate understanding, and the result has to be the same one if no interpreter had been used. We were told we are there "to even the playing field" so that the person with a language barrier is not at a disadvantage. We cannot do or say anything that may benefit or hurt the defendant.
The only thing that you can do, in a case when you actually know the defendant (I mean that you know him personally), you disclose to the court that you know the defendant so that there is no real or perceived conflict of interest. Usually the judge will ask you if you think that knowing the defendant will affect or impair your ability to do your job. If you answer "no" they go on. If you honestly think that you may be biased, it's better to come clean and recuse yourself.
But having seen Joe Blow in court for the umpteenth time does not mean you know him. He's just a recidivist, or as I like to call them a "frequent flyer". And if the lawyers are not doing their job, then he would've gotten a break when he went before the judge. That's when you think "if the defendant spoke English, this would be his lucky day", and you have to bite your tongue. You cannot change the outcome of the proceedings.
We are privy to many unpleasant tidbits that are protected by attorney client confidentiality. It's priviledged information. And you must interpret with a poker face during those sidebars between the lawyer and his client, when you hear all sorts of things that may make your stomach turn (no raising your eyebrow, no gasping in horror, no looks of disgust). It is a well known fact that if you are a court interpreter, you are going to be around criminals often. That's why some interpreters switch to doing work in the medical field as hospital interpreters, or only do hearings related to civil cases. It goes with the territory. Sometimes you have to develop a thick skin, and remember that you are part of the process that puts criminals behind bars, when the process works. And that's important.
I hope I was helpful in some way.
teju
Court interpreter and translator


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
Report it Dec 15, 2005

I cannot see where you would owe the defendant anything here, so tell all you know. In addition it appears that you are actually working for the police so you owe it to them.

The case would be quite different if you came by information by interpreting for the defendant with his defense attorney, for that is privileged information.


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Trudy Peters  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:57
German to English
+ ...
Your role as an interpreter Dec 15, 2005

is just that - interpret what is being said, and nothing more.

If you feel uncomfortable because you have knowledge about any of the parties involved, recuse yourself from the case and let someone else do the intepreting.

IMO, this is the only ethical way of handling a situation such as this.


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José Luis Villanueva-Senchuk  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 13:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
Report it II Dec 15, 2005

Hi there,

If you work for the police, you must report it. We, interpreters, are linguistic mediators AND mediators (depending of the circumstance) that are to make sure the situation flows accordingly, not only from the linguistic point of view.

[i was interpreting for a client who was getting local references (name of TV shows, local bands, etc.) in the middle of an interview. If I had just interpreted and said wjat I heard in Spanish (said the names)in English without providing context, my client would have been lost. In this case it is the same, you are to say what you know - even more so if the Police Dept. is your client.]

If you have a conflict of interest, because of your acquaintance with the accused, I second teju: recuse from interpreting.

«The only thing that you can do, in a case when you actually know the defendant (I mean that you know him personally), you disclose to the court that you know the defendant so that there is no real or perceived conflict of interest. Usually the judge will ask you if you think that knowing the defendant will affect or impair your ability to do your job. If you answer "no" they go on. If you honestly think that you may be biased, it's better to come clean and recuse yourself.
»

Cheers,

JL


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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:57
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
You are working for the police, BUT... Dec 15, 2005

...only as an interpreter, NOT as an informant, advisor, investigator, etc.

In my opinion and according to the code of ethics that I follow, you absolutely may not provide any information beyond what is actually said in an interpreted conversation. The only exception is if you have received information about child/elderly abuse, actual or potential.

This works both ways: Would the police (or any client) ever be able to trust you if they knew you were passing on information to the suspect about what the police were up to?

If you are uncomfortable with this you should recuse yourself or find another profession.


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Aleksandra Kwasnik  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:57
Polish to German
+ ...
Responsibility? Report it III. Dec 15, 2005

Sticky subject, but let's say the criminal is "just a thief", the police won't realize anything about his previous records and he gets free. The first thing he does is to steal again, then he gets arrested another time and during the next investigation somebody by chance finds out that YOU were aware of his criminal past before he came out.

The point I'm aiming at is: I'm not a lawyer and therefore am not sure whether you can be held accountable for NOT preventing him from commiting another crime?

What if he is a murderer?

A.

PS: With the case described above I wanted to point out at an another aspect of this situation. Personally I would report it, mainly because I think that as the police is my client I owe it to them. Of course one may rather feel impelled to say something when the criminal is a murderer, but I don't think that such decision should be differentiated depending on the kind of crime that has been committed.

[Edited at 2005-12-16 10:44]


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
NAJIT Code of Ethics Dec 15, 2005

You talked about interpreting at a police station, and I see that you live in England. In the United States courts, they would try first to use a certified court interpreter, if available. I'm not completely sure if this is also true of any interpretation that is done at a police station. But, if a court interpreter is present, the following code of ethics would apply:

See Point 3 - Confidentiality

NAJIT Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities
While many ethical decisions are straightforward, no code of ethics can foresee
every conceivable scenario; court interpreters cannot mechanically apply ...
www.najit.org/ethics.html - 11k - Cached - Similar pages - Remove result


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
Let's make a distinction Dec 15, 2005

José Luis Villanueva-Senchuk wrote:

If you work for the police, you must report it. We, interpreters, are linguistic mediators AND mediators (depending of the circumstance) that are to make sure the situation flows accordingly, not only from the linguistic point of view.

[i was interpreting for a client who was getting local references (name of TV shows, local bands, etc.) in the middle of an interview. If I had just interpreted and said wjat I heard in Spanish (said the names)in English without providing context, my client would have been lost. In this case it is the same, you are to say what you know - even more so if the Police Dept. is your client.]

JL


Let's make a distinction between conference interpreters, escort interpreting, interpreting for the private sector and court interpreting (and anything else related to law enforcement, like jail interviews, depositions, arraignments, and such).

José Luis, if something similar had happened during the course of a trial, when someone is talking about the name of a show, a band, or a business, and there is confusion, then the witness would verbalize that confusion: "what do you mean when you say X?" or "I don't understand your question". Then you interpret that testimony word for word, and it is the laywer's job to clarify his jumbled question. The court interpreter is not there to explain what it is said, or to clarify, we are only there to interpret.

What if the witness had been an English speaker and there was no interpreter involved, and this witness wasn't familiar with those shows, bands or businesses that he was being questioned about? He would then say "I'm confused, what do you mean?" If we clarified to the non-English speaker what the question was, we are actually giving the witness an advantage that the English speaking witness would not have had. One of our canons is "interpreting without errors, omissions, or additions". And that would be an addition.

And speaking of hypothetical situations, let's say, for the sake of the argument, that you think you recognize someone and you find out that you were wrong after you fingered him, what then? Let's say the man has a twin brother that you don't know about, what happens then? Let's say that you speak up and the guy pulls out a gun and someone gets shot, what is your responsibility? You then have altered the outcome of the situation, and you are not an actor, but a passive participant. You are not there to testify, that's why, when we speak, we refer to ourselves on the third person.

This is what happens when we confuse what our function is. It is the police officer's job to investigate the man's previous record. It is the state's job to prepare themselves when they bring charges against someone. It is the judge's job to ask questions of the defendant and the police, before making a judgment. Why should all that responsibility fall upon the shoulders of the poor interpreter? The cop screwed up, the lawyer didn't do his job well, and the judge failed to ask the right questions. It's as simple as that.

Court interpreters can never take anyone's side, we are not there to offer any opinions, clarify someone's confusing questions, or do someone else's job. And it should not matter who's paying us. Just because the defense attorney hires me to interpret during a deposition, that doesn't mean that I'm going to interpret any different. And this is the reason why court interpreters in the US are officers of the court, we don't work for the defendant,and we don't work for the prosecutor. This takes care of the problem of seeming like we may be partial to one side or the other.

José Luis, this is where I respectfully disagree with you. We are there to "make sure the situation flows" as you say, but ONLY from a linguistic point of view. Not from any other point of view. Everyone involved has their own function, and everyone has their own responsibilities and limitations, depending on what their job entails. As another colleague said, we are not informers.

Now, if I'm taking a stroll down the mall with a group of visiting dignataries doing escort interpretation, and someone asks "Do you want to go to the GAP?" I may interpret that as "Do you want to go into a store called the GAP?" for the sake of clarity. I would do that because I'm working as an escort intrepreter, and I have some liberty to interprete more freely, it doesn't have to be the rigorous verbatim interpretation that we do in court. And doing so, would not have any consequences.

Please forgive me if I rambled on too long.


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José Luis Villanueva-Senchuk  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 13:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
:-) Dec 15, 2005

Hola

I understand the court interpretation limitations/constraints. Nevertheless, I have been under oath and in court-like situations and have been able to request His/Her Honour, or presiding official, to explain.

IOW, I think one may address the presiding judge and explain that the client is not understanding (be it because of a high register used by the law team and others -expert witnesses- or for another reason.) The Judge will decide how to go about this.

I will be back later, I have to run now.

JL

******
Here I am...

I agree that courts and tribunals are a different game, but in this instance/scenario, I think I will make a note to the police (give them a heads up) or, like you say, recurse myself.


JL



[Edited at 2005-12-16 00:39]


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MonikaSojka  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:57
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
:) Dec 16, 2005

I spoke to one solicitor at a police station last night and asked him what he thought the proper course of action was. He said that his consultation with a suspect at a police station is privileged, however I, as an interpreter, am not bound by confidentiality and therefore if he were me he would have approached the officers as a member of the public and pointed out to them that he knew the suspect. He wouldn't go into detail as to the nature of the chap's previous convictions but would definately alert them in some way.

Thank you all so much for your thoughts on the issue I have put forward; I'm going to contact the relevant person within the Met Police interpreting department and pick their brains!


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:57
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Professional integrity of an interpreter Dec 24, 2005

I am surprised about the amount of confusion of the issue, and you better make an effort to find out what an interpreter's role and professional conduct should be, otherwise you may find yourself in hot water sooner or later.

Kevin and Teju are right.

First of all, you should have informed the person giving you the assignement, the police or court at the earliest opportunity that you have interpreted for this person before. If they ask when and where, you can give an approximate time, few month ago, last year, stb. but not where and what about. Then it is up to them to call another interpreter, or ask if it would influence your professional performance to interpret for him again.

If you feel it would, then you have to say so, and then you should not interpret for him. In fact, if that is the case, you should say that outright, without prompting, and withdraw.

If you feel and say no, it doesn't influence you, then they may decide to carry on. It is up to them. But you cannot divulge anything about the interpreting you have done for that person.

The same applies if you know the person in any other way.

You were already in a hot situation, when things got so far that he had the opportunity to ask you not to tell the police that you know him.

You are not Joe Public once you take on an interpreting assignement. What would you say, if a doctor visiting the defendant would go to the custody sargeant and say: "Some time ago I attended to this man in prison. I think he has a number of previous convictions." Never mind what you would think, the doctor would probably face discipinary action.

In fact, what you could offer to the police in this case wouldn't amount to more than gossip or worse, misinformation.

When you are interpreting, you try your best to give exactly what is said (and how it is said) by the parties. No more and no less. No, we are not mediators in the sense of adding anything to what is being said. We are mouthpieces. We should strive not to add or distract anything if it is linguisticly possible.

If a cultural issue is misunderstood, you grit your teeth and try to emphasize the inapropriate part of the dialogue, so they realise there is a misunderstanding, but unless they address you directly, you cannot interfere. If you think they misunderstood your interpretation, then say so to the asking party, and ask them to rephrase the question, or ask their permission to let you rephrase the question. That's as far as you can go.

And if you get a direct question from somebody, you have to interpret that to the other party as well, and remind the person asking you, that you have the duty to do so. Answer only, if the other person expressly asks you to answer to the question.

When you introduce yourself to the parties, it is a good idea to start your interpreting by telling them that you shall remain impartial and interpret everything being said in your presence.

The solicitor's advice was wrong, you are in exactly the same situation as him. You are bound by confidentiality as much as him. That applies to all interpreting, not only at the police or court. It is a lonely job, and if you have a pet, then confide in your pet.


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