Guidelines for interpreters

These guidelines set out the conduct expected of interpreters in a hearing and explain court protocol.

If an interpreter doesn’t follow the guidelines, a complaint could be made against them.

Conduct expected of interpreters in a court or tribunal hearing

Rules of professional conduct for interpreters

Interpreters working in courts and tribunals act strictly in the interests of the court or tribunal they serve. This overrides any duty to the parties in a case.

The interpreter’s main task is to help the court or tribunal by interpreting statements, evidence, and legal exchanges for those who can’t communicate effectively in English. An interpreter is not an advocate and must not act as one.

An interpreter must:

  • be unobtrusive, firm and dignified at all times
  • work with full awareness of the nature of the proceedings, and the goals of the court and tribunal
  • avoid professional and personal conduct that could discredit the court or tribunal
  • keep details of all cases they work on confidential
  • not recommend a lawyer, law firm, business or agency to clients
  • not make any comment, professional or otherwise, about any lawyer, law firm, representative, business or agency
  • not conduct research into the case or come to any conclusions about the facts of the case or the law.

Disclosing a conflict of interest

Interpreters must disclose to the court and the parties to a case, any conflict of interest. A conflict of interest could happen if they’ve had:

  • any prior involvement with the case
  • involvement with the parties or other person connected to the case such as a lawyer, witness, or victim.

It is important to avoid a conflict of interest, and even the appearance or perception of a conflict of interest. Interpreters should speak to the case manager if they are unsure if a conflict of interest exists.

An interpreter must be impartial

Interpreters have a duty to interpret accurately and to remain impartial. Professional detachment must be maintained at all times.

When interpreting a court or tribunal hearing, being impartial means setting aside personal, religious, or cultural beliefs or circumstances. It also means avoiding unnecessary contact with witnesses, victims, jurors, and parties to the case including their families and lawyers. This should not limit contact that is appropriate such as when it is necessary to prepare adequately for an assignment.

Being impartial also means an interpreter must not give advice of any kind to the person they are interpreting for, or express a personal opinion on the case before the court or tribunal. If the person the interpreter is interpreting for is confused about the proceedings, the interpreter must tell the person’s lawyer or representative, case manager from the court or tribunal, or the presiding officer.

If an interpreter feels their objectivity is threatened they should withdraw from the assignment.

Competency standards expected of an interpreter

Interpreters must take all reasonable care to be accurate, competent and professional. Competency standards expected of an interpreter are to:

  • speak clearly, and loud enough to be heard in the hearing room.
  • interpret in the first and second grammatical person - that is, using “I” or “you”, except when summarising legal argument or exchanges between parties.
  • not alter, add, or omit anything when interpreting - the interpretation should be precise including, as far as possible, translating offensive language such as derogatory terms and swear words.
  • ask for a statement to be repeated, rephrased, or explained if it is unclear.
  • immediately acknowledge mistakes by informing the court and parties. The interpreter can ask for a pause, and inform the court when they are ready to continue.
  • immediately inform the court or tribunal if the interpreter and the person who requires the interpreter need to have a conversation for the sake of clarifying something.
  • immediately inform the court or tribunal if a statement or question cannot be accurately interpreted because of cultural or linguistic differences between the 2 languages. If possible, the interpreter should help the lawyer, representative, party, or presiding officer to re-phrase the statement or question so it can be accurately interpreted.
  • decline to interpret in a case, or ask to be replaced if the case has begun, if they feel their interpreting skills are not adequate for it.  

Information is to be kept confidential

An interpreter must keep all case details confidential, unless they are ordered to disclose information by a court or tribunal.

An interpreter may be given documents about the case in advance to help them prepare for the hearing. If this occurs, the interpreter must keep these documents confidential. The documents may include a copy of the charges, summary of facts, witness statements, and expert witness briefs. In cases where there is simultaneous interpretation, such as a jury trial, the interpreter may be given the lawyer’s opening and closing addresses or the judge’s summing up.

Information is not to be used for personal gain

An interpreter must not take advantage of knowledge obtained when acting as an interpreter or through access to court information, facilities or privileges, for their own personal gain or to benefit another person.

If an interpreter feels their role as interpreter is being misused by any party they must inform the court or tribunal.

Unauthorised payments or gifts must not be accepted

The court or tribunal will authorise payment for an interpreter’s services (unless the interpreter has been engaged by a party in a civil proceeding). An interpreter must not accept any other payment (remuneration), gift or gratuity.

Court protocol

Dress standard

It is expected that interpreters will maintain the appropriate dress standard to reflect the function of the court or tribunal. No jeans or casual clothes are to be worn.

Timeliness

An interpreter must arrive on time for the start of the court or tribunal hearing, and must return from breaks on time.

Addressing a presiding officer in a court or tribunal hearing

A judge is addressed as “Your Honour”, “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

An associate judge, chair, or referee is addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

Interpreters must not interrupt the presiding officer when they are speaking.

Interpreters do not need to stand when speaking to a presiding office, or when a presiding officer speaks to them.

Referring to a presiding officer

A judge of the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court is referred to as “Justice” followed by their surname.

A judge of the District Court or other court (such as the Employment Court or Environment Court), are referred to “Judge” followed by their surname.

A presiding officer of a tribunal or authority is referred to by their specific role. For example, Disputes Referee, Tenancy Adjudicator, Chair, Member.

Court and tribunal officials

Court and tribunal officials can help interpreters with any questions about court or tribunal procedure. Officials in the courtroom such as the Registrar (court taker) or Crier (in a jury trial) oversee the mechanics of the court and tribunal process including swearing in witnesses and interpreters. This can include the transfer of documents between lawyers and the presiding officer, and displaying evidence (exhibits) to witnesses and the jury.

Taking notes

Interpreters are allowed to take notes in hearings but those notes should be kept secure to ensure information about the hearing remains confidential.

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