These guidelines set out the conduct expected of interpreters in a hearing and explain court protocol.
If an interpreter doesn’t follow the guidelines, a complaint could be made against them.
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 help the court or tribunal by interpreting statements, evidence, and legal exchanges for those who can’t communicate effectively in English. An interpreter is not an advocate and must not act as one.
An interpreter must:
Interpreters must disclose to the court and the parties to a case, any conflict of interest. A conflict of interest could happen if they’ve had:
It is important to avoid a conflict of interest, and even the appearance or perception of a conflict of interest. Interpreters should speak to the case manager if they are unsure if a conflict of interest exists.
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 and lawyers. This should not limit contact that is appropriate such as when it is necessary to prepare adequately for an assignment.
Being impartial also means an interpreter must not give advice of any kind to the person they are 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.
Interpreters must take all reasonable care to be accurate, competent and professional. Competency standards expected of an interpreter are to:
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 occurs, 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.
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.
The court or tribunal will authorise payment for an interpreter’s services (unless the interpreter has been engaged by a party in a civil proceeding). An interpreter must not accept any other payment (remuneration), gift or gratuity.
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.
An interpreter must arrive on time for the start of the court or tribunal hearing, and must return from breaks on time.
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 are speaking.
Interpreters do not need to stand when speaking to a presiding office, or when a presiding officer speaks to them.
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), are referred to “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 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 mechanics 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.
Interpreters are allowed to take notes in hearings but those notes should be kept secure to ensure information about the hearing remains confidential.
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