Ethical considerations when working with Community Interpreters

This section will help you consider how to respond to ethical issues that may arise when working with community interpreters. It will also help you practice using the Nairobi Code as a guide to solve ethical problems. Read the following information and then complete the training example. At the end of this section, you should understand what kinds of ethical issues can arise when working with community interpreters, and how to use the Nairobi Code in order to solve those issues.

The following example looks at an ethical issues that may arise when working with community interpreters, and uses the Nairobi Code as a guiding framework through which to resolve such dilemmas. Practice discussing such hypothetical dilemmas with your interpreting team.

The risks and relevant ethical considerations of working with community interpreters are also addressed in the Community Legal Empowerment section on Community Interpreters.


You become aware that one of your interpreters is selling testimonies to refugees. Sometimes asylum seekers with valid claims believe that a testimony written by an experienced professional is more likely to achieve refugee status than their own testimony. Sometimes they are too ashamed to tell what really happened to them. You believe that your clients have valid claims and are not recipients of his fabricated testimonies. Even though your interpreter is selling testimonies, he is a good interpreter, and you do not have any other way to communicate with your clients. He is also a recognized refugee himself and you do not want to cause legal problems for him.

How to handle:

You are not required to report the interpreter to anyone.

Whether you have a duty of confidentiality depends on how you learned that the interpreter is selling testimonies, and whether the interpreter is also a client, but most likely you are not required to keep the testimony-selling confidential – so your supervisor may want to consider warning other NGOs that also use this interpreter.

Your duty of diligence toward your clients may apply: If you think that reporting the interpreter to the RSD decisionmaker would cause the decisionmaker to consider your clients’ claims suspect, you should not report the interpreter.

If you report this interpreter to the RSD decisionmaker, the refugee community may not trust your assurances of confidentiality for clients.

You have a duty to try to repair the damage to your clients if their claims were harmed by the interpreter’s actions. Deciding how best to repair the damage, however, will depend on the local context, the attitude of the RSD decisionmaker, and how your clients were harmed.

If your clients submitted false testimonies on the advice of this interpreter, you must convince your clients to correct the misstatements. If you cannot convince them to correct the misstatements, under the Nairobi Code you must withdraw from representation. In correcting the misstatements, your clients should explain why they initially made the misstatements.

You should always consult with a supervisor before making a decision about how to handle this type of situation. The guiding principle here is your duty of diligence to your clients: Act in the way that best furthers your clients’ interests.

For those clients whose claims cannot proceed without the assistance of the interpreter, you should seek an extension of time from the RSD decisionmaker to prepare their claims. Talk with your supervisor about how to find another interpreter.

What steps can you take to prevent this type of situation from happening in the future?
Let your supervisor decide. If you are the supervisor, you probably should let this interpreter go, even if it may harm other cases. You have no obligation to report this interpreter, however, if he has harmed the asylum claims of any clients in the office, it is your duty to try and repair any damage this might have caused for those clients who were deceived. In the future, always try and cultivate relationships with more than one interpreter.