FuzzyLaw Mini-article

26 Jul 2013

An equal footing

I am involved in providing training for public service interpreters and I also work as a freelance public service interpreter. I have a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) and I am on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).

I have sometimes described the role of the public service interpreter as to put the non -English speaker on an equal footing with an English speaker. The FuzzyLaw project has made me realise that this may not be very helpful. The range of explanations given by English speakers for legal terms shows that English speakers may or may not understand commonly used legal terms. This could have implications regarding professional conduct.

Interpreters are sometimes asked to sign statements to the effect that they have translated or interpreted something in such a way that the service user can understand. If a solicitor is not able to ascertain whether her English speaking client has understood what she has said to him without discussing it with him, there seems to be no reason why an interpreter should be in a better position to do so. The Code of Professional Conduct of the NRPSI (http://www.nrpsi.co.uk/pdf/CodeofConduct07.pdf) states both that "Practitioners shall interpret truly and faithfully what is uttered, without adding, omitting or changing anything” and also that "Practitioners carrying out work as Public Service Interpreters, or in other contexts where the requirement for neutrality between parties is absolute, shall not enter into discussion, give advice or express opinions or reactions to any of the parties that exceed their duties as interpreters“. I wonder whether this means that interpreters who sign the statements mentioned above are being expected to act in ways that contravene the NRPSI Code of Conduct.

I have found an alternative way of defining the role of the interpreter that avoids this pitfall by allowing the professional to ascertain what the client has understood and allowing the client to address their questions directly to the professional: the role of the public service interpreter is "to put each speaker on the same footing as they would be on if they shared a language with the others" (http://publicserviceinterpreting.com/the-impartial-model-of-interpreting-and-guide-to-good-practice).

Elsa Cowie, July 2013


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