Certified Professional Court Interpreters vs. Untrained Bilinguals

We’ve blogged about legal language services and the differences between certified legal translators and court interpreters in multilingual courtrooms. Many attorneys have stories about overhearing an interpreter giving their client legal advice right in front of them. One attorney even recalls having an interpreter blissfully engage in personal chit-chat with a deponent right in the middle of a deposition. Such tribulations not only give all professional court interpreters a bad reputation, which behooves the untrained bilingual amateurs who pose as interpreters, but also reveal the lack of understanding by seasoned trial lawyers, litigators – and even the court – about the scope of the court interpreter’s professional and ethical responsibilities.

One of the most important (and most basic) things a trial lawyer can do is learn at least as much as the judge knows (or should know) about court interpreters and the attorney’s responsibilities in working with them. To begin, consider the premise that fluency alone in another language doesn’t make one an interpreter or a translator.

Court interpreting or judicial interpreting is a complex process requiring a combination of cognitive and interpreting skills and cross-cultural savvy that very few lay bilingual individuals can manifest. In addition to complete proficiency and fluency in the two languages (English and the foreign language spoken by the witness or defendant), highly demanding consecutive and simultaneous interpreting skills and sight translation capability, the ability to provide impartial and accurate interpreting during court proceedings, familiarity with legal terminology, procedures and protocol – qualified court interpreters should strictly abide by the ten canons of the Interpreter’s Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters in the Judiciary. (The exact name of the Code and its text varies from state to state. Colorado, for example, uses The Colorado Judicial Department Code for Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters.)

CAUTION: Hire only court-certified, professionally qualified, or otherwise credentialed and trained court interpreters who meet all required professional standards and follows the fundamental ethical precepts and the conduct prescribed in the ten canon of the Code for Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters.

To read our earlier legal translation blog post “What Trial Lawyers and Litigators Should Expect from a Deposition Interpreter and from On-Site Legal Translators” click here.

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