Peer – Peer Ethics

While there are many sample codes of conduct for professional interpreters, these may not be entirely useful for a community setting in which the interpreter themselves is a part of the refugee community and has various extra-professional relationships with your clients. Whilst flexibility is therefore a necessity, it is still possible – and advisable – to draw up a code of conduct to address the inevitable ethical issues that will arise in a community interpreting context.

Key provisions include:

  • Respect clients’ right to privacy and confidentiality
  • Disclose any real or perceived conflicts of interest
  • Decline to undertake work beyond their competence or accreditation levels
  • Relay information accurately and impartially between parties
  • Maintain professional detachment and refrain from inappropriate self-promotion
  • Guard against misuse of inside information for personal gain.
  • Never speak on behalf of either party
  • Do not accept assignments for which they do not meet the competence requirements or about which they are biased
  • Prevent and report any violations of ethics
  • Commit to ongoing professional development.

It may be useful to look at ethical case studies with community interpreters. The following examples, some of which are taken from Australia’s National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) guide may be helpful.

Example One

While interpreting in an interview between a police officer and a witness, the officer asks you for your comment on the client’s background and whether he is telling the truth. How would you reply? Please give reasons for your answer.

Example Answer:
The first principle involved is Impartiality. This states that interpreters do not voice or write an opinion, solicited or unsolicited, on any matter. The second principle is Clarity of Role Boundaries, which states that interpreters draw attention to any situation where other parties misunderstand the interpreter role or have inappropriate expectations

I would explain to the police officer that as an interpreter my only role is to enable communication between two parties who do not speak a common language. As part of this process it is important that I do not express an opinion in relation to his question as this would mean that I do not maintain my independence in relation to the communication.

Example Two

You are interpreting for a patient and a psychiatrist. The patient seems rather uncomfortable and does not respond with complete sentences. Their answers to the psychiatrist’s questions do not make much sense. What would you do and why?

Example Answer:
This issue relates to Impartiality and Accuracy. Impartiality states that interpreters remain unbiased throughout the communication exchanged between the participants in any interpreted encounter. Accuracy states that an interpreter use their best professional judgement in remaining faithful at all times to the meaning of messages.

Because of these principles, the interpreter must not improve on the coherence of the patient’s replies by making them more articulate than they are in the original. Whatever the client says must be interpreted for the psychiatrist, even if such a client’s response bears no relation to the question or makes no sense. It is the psychiatrist who will take appropriate action, should this be required.

Other potentially difficult scenarios:

  • The Decisionmaker turns to the Interpreter and asks: “Do you think she (Client) is telling the truth?”
    • When the Decisionmaker does not appear to know the limits of the Interpreter’s role, it is the duty of the Interpreter to educate the Decisionmaker, by saying, “The Interpreter is not allowed to offer a personal opinion.”
  • The Client is very emotional and scared as she has been traumatized. When the Interpreter speaks loudly, or shows strong facial expressions, the Client withdraws and appears sullen and uncooperative.
    • In this scenario, the Interpreter’s body language has become a hindrance; a low profile and quiet demeanor not drawing attention to himself would be more appropriate.
    • As an asylum-seeker is in an exceptionally vulnerable situation, it is crucial for the interpreter to be alert to all physical, emotional or semantic nuances of the situation. This includes being mindful of seemingly mundane details like seating arrangements, when to use the first or third person pronoun, and what to do in an awkward situation.

Further resources: