Russian Interpreter’s Poor Interpretation Causes a Halted Trial: Why Attorneys Must Learn to Differentiate Between Competent Court Interpreters and Unqualified Individuals

Attorneys love to tell stories about a long-winded verbal exchange between the non-English-speaking witness and the interpreter, or the non-English-speaking defendant and the interpreter, which always ends with the interpreter solemnly declaring “Yes”, while failing to inform the English-speaking lawyers of the remaining portion of his or her communication in that foreign language.

What many lawyers don’t realize, through, is that they have just met an unqualified person, who, irrespective of his/ her fluency in English and in the given foreign language, is not ready to serve as an interpreter in a legal setting.

And the reason is that court interpretation is a specialized form of language interpreting, which requires skills that few bilingual individuals possess. In addition, court interpreters must adhere to

strict codes of appropriate and responsible behavior.

The Register Citizen has just reported that a Litchfield Superior Court judge in Connecticut halted a theft court proceeding because he noticed that the Russian interpreter “was not properly translating what was being said”. The judge wanted the Russian-speaking defendant to get the full story.

We can only opine that the English-Russian interpreter in that case did not have adequate language interpreting skills, and was unfamiliar with the Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters in the Judiciary.

The Code of Professional Responsibility addresses the various ethical responsibilities of court interpreters for accuracy and completeness; representation of qualifications; impartiality and avoidance of conflict of interest; professional demeanor; confidentiality; restriction of public comment; and other matters relating to the professional conduct of court interpreters.

Further, the Model Court Interpreter Act provides for


Any of the following actions shall be good cause for a judge to remove an interpreter:

Being unable to interpret adequately, including where the interpreter self-reports such inability;
Knowingly and willfully making false interpretation while serving in an official capacity;
Knowingly and willfully disclosing confidential or privileged information obtained while serving in an official capacity;

Failing to follow other standards prescribed by law and the Code of Professional Responsibility for interpreters.

Clearly, trial courts, and law firms, and attorneys should never put up with the possibility of the trial being lost, or the prosecution being compromised by poor courtroom interpreting. So learn to differentiate between competent court interpreters and unqualified individuals, and always refuse to hire incompetent and unqualified interpreters.

When no qualified foreign language interpreters are available in your jurisdiction, contact our professional translation service to retain professional court interpreters for government debriefings, depositions, hearings, IMEs, settlement conferences, mediation, arbitrations, and trials.

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