Guidelines for interpreters

Overview: The Guidelines set out the conduct we expect of all Ministry-appointed interpreters in a hearing. They also explain court protocol.

The Guidelines also form part of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals (Standard Terms), which apply to every booking agreement made by our Ministry. The Standard Terms require that interpreters comply with any guidelines or policies for interpreting while providing their services.

Read our Ministry’s Standard Terms and Conditions for Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals

Conduct expected of interpreters in a court or tribunal hearing

Rules of professional conduct for interpreters

Interpreters working in courts and tribunals act strictly in the interests of the court or tribunal they serve. This overrides any duty to the parties in a case.

The interpreter’s main task is to interpret statements, evidence, and legal exchanges for those who find it hard to understand or respond in English. It’s important to remember that an interpreter must not act in any way as an advocate for the person they’re providing interpreter services for (for example, trying to influence a case on behalf of that person or anyone else participating in the hearing).

An interpreter must demonstrate professional behaviour by:

  • being respectful and cooperative and impartial at all times
  • being fully informed of the nature of the proceedings, and the running of the court or tribunal
  • avoiding professional and personal conduct that could discredit the court or tribunal
  • keeping all case details confidential
  • not recommending, or commenting on, any lawyer, law firm, business or agency to clients
  • not researching into the case or making conclusions about the law or facts of the case.

Disclosing a conflict of interest

Interpreters should disclose a conflict of interest to the Central Registry (CR) before they confirm their availability for a booking. However, if they become aware of a conflict of interest after taking the booking, interpreters must talk to CR or the presiding judicial officer (the judge, disputes tribunal referee or tenancy adjudicator), who will work with them to determine whether they can continue with the booking.

A conflict of interest arises when the interpreter’s independence, objectivity or impartiality can be called into question. A conflict of interest may occur if the interpreter has:

  • any personal knowledge or involvement with the case
  • involvement with the parties or other person connected to the case, such as a lawyer, witness, or victim
  • an appearance or perception of a conflict of interest. An example could be interpreting for a hearing where you or your business could financially benefit from the outcome.

An interpreter must be impartial

Interpreters have a duty to interpret accurately and to remain impartial. Professional detachment must be maintained at all times.

When interpreting a court or tribunal hearing, being impartial means setting aside personal, religious, or cultural beliefs or circumstances. It also means avoiding unnecessary contact with witnesses, victims, jurors, and parties to the case, including their families/whānau and lawyers. This shouldn’t limit appropriate contact, such as what’s needed to adequately prepare for an assignment.

Being impartial also means an interpreter must not give advice of any kind to the person they’re interpreting for, or express a personal opinion on the case before the court or tribunal. If the person the interpreter is interpreting for is confused about the proceedings, the interpreter must tell the person’s lawyer or representative, case manager from the court or tribunal, or the presiding officer.

If an interpreter feels their objectivity is threatened, they should withdraw from the assignment.

Competency standards expected of an interpreter

Interpreters must take all reasonable care to be accurate, competent and professional. Competency standards expected of an interpreter are to:

  • speak clearly and loud enough to be heard in the hearing room
  • interpret in the first and second grammatical person - that is, using “I” or “you”, except when summarising legal argument or exchanges between parties
  • not alter, add, or omit anything when interpreting - the interpretation should be precise including, as far as possible, translating offensive language such as derogatory terms and swear words
  • ask for a statement to be repeated, rephrased, or explained if it’s unclear
  • immediately acknowledge mistakes by informing the court and parties. The interpreter can ask for a pause in proceedings and inform the court when they’re ready to continue.
  • immediately inform the court or tribunal if the interpreter and the person who requires the interpreter need to have a conversation for the sake of clarifying something
  • immediately inform the court or tribunal if a statement or question cannot be accurately interpreted because of cultural or linguistic differences between the two languages. If possible, the interpreter should help the lawyer, representative, party, or presiding officer to rephrase the statement or question so it can be accurately interpreted.
  • decline to interpret in a case, or ask to be replaced if the case has begun, if they feel they don’t have the required interpreting skills.  

Information must be kept confidential

An interpreter must keep all case details confidential, unless they are ordered to disclose information by a court or tribunal.

An interpreter may be given documents about the case in advance to help them prepare for the hearing. If this happens, the interpreter must keep these documents confidential. The documents may include a copy of the charges, summary of facts, witness statements, and expert witness briefs. In cases where there is simultaneous interpretation, such as a jury trial, the interpreter may be given the lawyer’s opening and closing addresses or the judge’s summing up.

You must keep all details relating to a case confidential. There may also be suppression orders in place.

Read more about name suppression

Information is not to be used for personal gain

An interpreter must not take advantage of knowledge obtained when acting as an interpreter or through access to court information, facilities or privileges, for their own personal gain or to benefit another person.

If an interpreter feels their role as interpreter is being misused by any party, they must inform the court or tribunal.

Unauthorised payments or gifts must not be accepted

Where the interpreter has been engaged by the court or tribunal, the Ministry will authorise payment for an interpreter’s services. An interpreter must not accept any other payment (remuneration), gift or gratuity.

Court protocol

Courts are generally formal places. Make sure you know what’s expected of you before you provide interpreter services in a court or tribunal. As well as the information below, you can read more about what to expect on our Ministry website:

What to expect at court

Dress standard is formal

It is expected that interpreters will maintain the appropriate dress standard to reflect the function of the court or tribunal. No jeans or casual clothes are to be worn.

Ensure you arrive on time for the court event

An interpreter must arrive on time for the start of the court or tribunal hearing. This includes returning from breaks on time. We ask that you arrive at least 30 minutes before the hearing is scheduled to begin.

Addressing a presiding officer in a court or tribunal hearing

A judge is addressed as “Your Honour”, “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

An associate judge, chair, or referee is addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

Interpreters must not interrupt the presiding officer when they’re speaking.

Interpreters don’t need to stand when speaking to a presiding office, or when a presiding officer speaks to them.

Referring to a presiding officer

A judge of the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court is referred to as “Justice” followed by their surname.

A judge of the District Court or other court (such as the Employment Court or Environment Court) is referred to as “Judge” followed by their surname.

A presiding officer of a tribunal or authority is referred to by their specific role. For example, Disputes Referee, Tenancy Adjudicator, Chair, Member.

Court and tribunal officials

Court and tribunal officials can help interpreters with any questions about court or tribunal procedure. Officials in the courtroom such as the Registrar (court taker) or Crier (in a jury trial) oversee the running of the court and tribunal process, including swearing in witnesses and interpreters. This can include the transfer of documents between lawyers and the presiding officer, and displaying evidence (exhibits) to witnesses and the jury.

Taking notes

Interpreters are allowed to take notes in hearings. All notes must be kept secure to ensure information about the hearing remains confidential.

 

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