Interpreters for Witnesses

  • 11/08/2023 15:31
    Message # 13277282
    Ethics Panel (Administrator)

    I was wondering why the federal courts are so strict about having interpreters for the prosecution and for the defense, even though we are neutral. I thought about the appearance of being neutral, as well as whose burden it is to prove the case and the conflict of interest. I did some research and finally came across this statute (that I am attaching below), I think after finding this, it became very clear to me that it is the Prosecutor's responsibility to secure and pay their witnesses' interpreters, so it would be inappropriate for the Courts to provide (secure and pay) the Prosecutor interpreters, since the burden and the funds are separate. Please let me know what you think.

    Last modified: 11/08/2023 15:36 | Ethics Panel (Administrator)
  • 11/08/2023 15:32
    Reply # 13277285 on 13277282
    Ethics Panel (Administrator)

    Thank you for your inquiry.

    The myth that there is ever a conflict of interest when interpreters are interpreting in open court is pervasive and persists despite ongoing efforts to dispel it. When in open court,

    the same interpreter may interpret:

     • In simultaneous mode for all LEP individuals requiring that language.

     • In consecutive mode for any LEP witness requiring that language, no matter who calls the witness. 

    Any interpreter may interpret for any LEP witness in their language and should strive to adhere to best practices of team interpreting by rotating at regular intervals. As officers of the court, interpreters provide accurate interpretation regardless of which entity has secured and paid for interpreter services. 

    Silo-ing of interpreters is appropriate when communications are confidential and/or privileged, for example, during preparation for trial. (See Standards of Practice and Ethics for Washington State Judiciary Interpreters, Rendering Services for Different Parties, Page 58).   A prosecutor who has prepared a witness with the aid of an interpreter may wish to hire that interpreter to assist during trial. That is their prerogative, however, there is no requirement that they do so. Even if they do, that interpreter can and should rotate at the witness stand  with the interpreters who are already serving the court. For guidance on how to best proceed in such situations, please see the Standards, specifically the section on “Practices to Avoid” (page 37 in the online version).

    The excerpt from the Guide to Judiciary Policy that you included with your question concerns the funds allocated for payment of interpreter services. Nowhere does it cite any conflict of interest, breach of neutrality or any mandate to use separate interpreters for the prosecution and defense, but rather, it notes that the parties are each responsible for the costs of interpretation associated with their cases. It points out that there is no statutory requirement for one and the same interpreter to serve all parties, but does not indicate that there is any prohibition on such a practice. 

    Armed with information about the benefits of utilizing the same team of interpreters for defendants and witnesses alike, interpreters are in a stronger position to advocate for this standard practice in all courts. The fact that this practice is also the most fiscally responsible merely bolsters the argument.

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