A colleague found himself in an ethics struggle recently with an attorney. Counsel handed him a lengthy plea agreement in a crowded interview room and said, “Read this to him. I have to tend to other prisoners. Let me know if he has any questions.”
Mr. Attorney exited rapidly before the interpreter could respond. A disquiet enveloped him. He knew that when only two were in the room, he wasn’t an interpreter. According to Judith Kenigson Kristy “The interpreter’s only task is to interpret. In order to conserve impartiality and confidentiality, the interpreter should not be asked to be alone with a defendant”.
The interpreter proceeded alone and gave no legal advice to the defendant. He merely interpreted and encouraged the prisoner to discuss questions with his attorney.
Distraught, he called a colleague afterward to explain the dilemma. Did I do the right thing? What could I have done? The fellow interpreter comforted his friend and encouraged him to educate the lawyer beforehand during the next session.
I’ve risen at the same time as an attorney when she left the room and noticed her bewildered face. “Why don’t you stay here with him and see if he has any questions?” “Madame Attorney, I must comply with a code of ethics that demands impartiality. When I’m alone with him, I’m no longer an interpreter.” Albeit initially uncomfortable, Ms. Member of the Bar recognizes the importance of ethics and further realizes what role an interpreter plays in a legal setting.
Take a glance at “Language and Litigation” and ask yourself: What would you do in this situation?