Interpreter Rules of Conduct
Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct for Judiciary Interpreters
EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2022
In accordance with Act 172 of 2006 (42 Pa.C.S. §§ 4411(e) and 4431(e)), the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania hereby establishes these Rules of Professional Conduct for Judiciary Interpreters in the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
Many persons who come before the courts are partially or completely excluded from full participation in the proceedings due to limited English proficiency (LEP) or because they are speech impaired or have a hearing loss. It is the Court’s intention to remove this communication barrier in order to provide equal access and due process so that these persons are placed in the same position as similarly situated persons for whom there is no such impediment. As officers of the court, interpreters help assure that such persons may enjoy equal access to justice and that court proceedings and court support services function efficiently and effectively. Interpreters are highly skilled professionals who fulfill an essential role in the administration of justice. In their capacity as officers of the court, court interpreters are bound by rules of professional conduct.
Applicability and Enforcement
These rules shall guide and be binding upon all persons, agencies and organizations who administer, supervise, deliver, or attempt to become certified to deliver, interpreting services to the Judiciary. It shall govern the conduct of persons who are employed, under contract, or otherwise appointed by the Judiciary to interpret, transliterate, or deliver foreign and sign language interpreting services to the judicial system. This shall include persons who offer their services free of charge or on a volunteer basis.
Violations of these rules may result in the interpreter being removed from a case, being suspended, being denied future appointments by the courts, losing certification if the interpreter has been certified pursuant to Act 172 and the Administrative Regulations Governing Language Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency and for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing or any other sanctions deemed appropriate by the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania. The Court Administrator is authorized to adopt policies and procedures necessary to enforce these rules.
RULE 1: REPRESENTATION OF QUALIFICATIONS.
Interpreters shall accurately and completely represent their certifications, training, and pertinent experience.
Acceptance of a case by an interpreter conveys linguistic competency in legal settings. Withdrawing or being asked to withdraw from a case after it begins causes a disruption of court proceedings and is wasteful of scarce public resources. It is therefore essential that interpreters present a complete and truthful account of their certification, training, and experience prior to appointment so the officers of the court can fairly evaluate their qualifications for delivering interpreting services.
RULE 2: ACCURACY AND COMPLETENESS.
Interpreters shall render a complete and accurate interpretation or sight translation, without altering, omitting, or adding anything to what is stated or written, and without embellishment or explanation.
The interpreter has a twofold duty: (1) to ensure that the proceedings in English reflect precisely what was said by the LEP, speech impaired, or hard of hearing person; and (2) to place the LEP, speech impaired, or hard of hearing person on an equal footing with those who understand English. This creates an obligation to conserve every element of information contained in a source language communication when it is rendered in the target language.
Therefore, interpreters are obligated to apply their best skills and judgment to preserve faithfully the meaning of what is said in court, including the style and register of speech. Verbatim or literal oral interpretations are not appropriate when they distort the meaning of the source language, but every spoken statement, even if it appears non-responsive, obscene, rambling, or incoherent should be interpreted. This includes apparent misstatements.
Interpreters should never interject their own words, phrases, or expressions. They should convey the emotional emphasis of the speaker without reenacting or mimicking the speaker's emotions or dramatic gestures.
Sign language interpreters, however, must employ all of the visual cues that the language they are interpreting for requires, including facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. Sign language interpreters, therefore, should ensure that court participants do not confuse these essential elements of the interpreted language with inappropriate interpreter conduct.
The obligation to preserve accuracy includes the interpreter’s duty to correct any error of interpretation discovered by the interpreter during the proceeding. Interpreters should also demonstrate their professionalism by objectively analyzing any challenge to their performance.
RULE 3: IMPARTIALITY AND AVOIDANCE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
Interpreters shall be impartial and unbiased and shall refrain from conduct that may give an appearance of bias or favoritism. Interpreters shall disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest.
Interpreters serve as officers of the court and their main duty in court proceedings is to serve the court. This is true regardless of whether the interpreter is publicly retained at government expense or retained privately at the expense of one of the parties.
Interpreters should avoid any conduct or behavior that presents the appearance of favoritism toward any of the parties. Interpreters should maintain professional relationships with their clients and should not take an active part in any of the proceedings. The interpreter should discourage an LEP or speech impaired person or person with hearing loss’s personal dependence on the interpreter.
During the course of the proceedings, interpreters should not converse with parties, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, or friends or relatives of any party, except in the discharge of their official functions. It is especially important that interpreters, who are often familiar with attorneys, courtroom staff, and law enforcement officers, refrain from casual and personal conversations with anyone in court that may convey an appearance of a special relationship or partiality to any of the court participants.
The interpreter should strive for professional detachment. Verbal and non-verbal displays of personal attitudes, prejudices, emotions, or opinions should be avoided at all times.
Should the interpreter become aware that a proceeding participant views the interpreter as having a bias or being biased, the interpreter should disclose that knowledge to the appropriate judicial authority and counsel.
Any condition that interferes with the objectivity of an interpreter constitutes a conflict of interest. Before providing professional services in a matter, interpreters must disclose to all parties any prior involvement, whether personal or professional, that could be reasonably construed as a conflict of interest. This disclosure should not include privileged or confidential information. The following circumstances are presumed to create actual or apparent conflicts of interest for interpreters and should preclude them from serving in any proceeding in which:
- they are a friend, associate, or relative of a party or counsel for a party involved in the proceedings;
- they or their spouse, child, or relative is a party to the proceeding or have a financial interest or any other interest that would be affected by the outcome of the proceeding;
- they have been previously retained by a law enforcement agency to assist in the preparation of the criminal case at issue or have served in an investigative capacity for any party involved in the case; and
- they have been involved in the choice of counsel or law firm for that case.
Interpreters should also disclose to the court and other parties when they have previously been retained for private employment by one of the parties in the case and should not serve in any matter in which payment for their services is contingent upon the outcome of the case.
An interpreter who is also an attorney should not serve in both capacities in the same matter. Similarly, attorneys, probation officers, investigators, police officers, sheriffs, therapists, social workers, advocates, and other professionals should not interpret in any judicial proceeding or any court support service in which they are professionally involved with a party to the matter.
RULE 4: PROFESSIONAL DEMEANOR.
Interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court and shall be as unobtrusive as possible.
Interpreters should know and observe established protocols, rules, and procedures for delivering interpreting services. They should speak at a rate and volume that enables them to be heard and understood throughout the courtroom, but their presence should otherwise be as unobtrusive as possible. They should not draw undue or inappropriate attention to themselves and should dress in a manner that is consistent with the dignity of the proceedings and the court. Interpreters are encouraged to avoid personal or professional conduct that could discredit or be embarrassing to the court.
RULE 5: CONFIDENTIALITY.
Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged and other confidential information.
Interpreters must protect and uphold the confidentiality of all privileged information obtained during the discharge of their duties. Privileged information refers to confidential information that is protected from disclosure by law or statute, as listed in 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 4415 and 4436 and § 103 of these Regulations. They must be familiar with and understand the rules applicable to the handling of privileged and confidential information. It is especially important that interpreters understand and uphold the attorney-client privilege, which requires confidentiality with respect to any communication between attorney and client. Interpreters must also refrain from repeating or disclosing information obtained in the course of their employment that may be relevant to the legal proceeding.
In the event that an interpreter becomes aware of information that suggests imminent harm to someone or relates to a crime being committed during the course of the proceedings, the interpreter should immediately disclose the information to an appropriate authority within the judiciary who is not a party in the proceeding and seek advice in regard to the potential conflict in professional responsibility.
RULE 6: RESTRICTION FROM PUBLIC COMMENT.
Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinion concerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged, even when that information is not privileged or required by law to be confidential.
Even when communications are not privileged, interpreters should be mindful not to discuss a case while it is pending. An exemption to this rule would be if the interpreter is called upon to testify as a language expert. In such instances the interpreter should limit his or her opinion to strict matters of linguistic expertise, such as the meaning and usage of specific words or culturally bound terms. When called upon to testify in court, the interpreter should request a ruling by the court upon the propriety of testimony on confidential matters. Also, if a disciplinary complaint or lawsuit arising out of interpretation services is filed against an interpreter, he or she may testify about relevant communications.
RULE 7: SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS OF PRACTICE.
Interpreters shall limit themselves to interpreting, transliterating or sight translating and shall not give legal advice, express personal opinions to individuals for whom they are interpreting, or engage in any other activities which may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting, transliterating or sight translating while serving as an interpreter.
Since interpreters are responsible only for enabling others to communicate, they should limit themselves to the activity of interpreting, transliterating or sight translating only. They should not take a primary role in such communications and may take a secondary role only as necessary for assuring an accurate and faithful interpretation, transliteration or sight translation.
Interpreters may assume a secondary role when they find it necessary to speak directly to the court to seek assistance in performing their duties, e.g., requesting that speakers moderate their rate of communication or repeat or rephrase a statement, correcting an interpreting error, or notifying the court of their reservations about their ability to satisfy an assignment competently.
Interpreters should avoid activities that may be reasonably construed to constitute the practicing of law, e.g., giving legal advice or answering parties' questions that would ordinarily be answered by an attorney. An interpreter may convey legal advice from an attorney to a person only while the attorney giving it is present.
Interpreters should not explain the purpose of forms and services or otherwise act as counselors, advisors, or advocates unless they are interpreting for someone who is acting in that official capacity. The interpreter may sight translate language on a form for a person who is filling out the form, but may not explain the form or its purpose for such a person.
Interpreters should not personally serve to perform official acts that are the official responsibility of other court officials including, but not limited to, court clerks, pretrial release investigators, interviewers, probation officers, hearing officers, or counselors.
RULE 8: ASSESSING AND REPORTING IMPEDIMENTS TO PERFORMANCE.
Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver their services. When interpreters have any reservation about their ability to satisfy an assignment competently, they shall immediately convey that reservation to the court or other appropriate judicial authority.
Interpreters should immediately notify the court if the communication mode or language of the LEP person cannot be readily interpreted or if the interpreter's language of expertise does not match that of the LEP person. They should also notify the court of any environmental or physical limitation that impedes or hinders their ability to deliver interpreting services adequately (e.g., too much noise in the courtroom, inability to hear the speaker or be heard by the LEP person, more than one person speaking at a time, or principals and witnesses speaking at a high rate of speed).
Sign language interpreters must ensure that they can both see and convey the full range of visual language elements necessary for communication, including facial expressions and body movement, as well as hand gestures.
Interpreters should inform the presiding officer of the need to take periodic breaks in order to maintain mental and physical alertness and prevent interpreter fatigue. They should also recommend and encourage the use of team interpreting whenever necessary.
Interpreters should refrain from accepting a case if they feel the language and subject matter is likely to exceed their skills or capacities. Even competent and experienced interpreters may encounter cases in which routine proceedings suddenly involve technical or specialized terminology unfamiliar to them. Interpreters should feel no compunction about notifying the presiding officer if they feel unable to perform competently, due to lack of familiarity with terminology, preparation, or difficulty in understanding a witness or defendant.
Finally, interpreters should notify the court of any personal bias they may have involving any aspect of the proceedings which may prevent them from performing their duties according to these rules. For example, an interpreter who has been the victim of a sexual assault may wish to be excused from interpreting in cases involving similar offenses.
RULE 9: DUTY TO REPORT ETHICAL VIOLATIONS.
Interpreters shall report to the proper judicial authority any effort to impede their compliance with any law, any provision of these rules, or any other official policy governing court interpreting and legal translating.
Because users of interpreting services frequently misunderstand the proper role of the interpreter, they may ask or expect the interpreter to perform duties or engage in activities that run counter to the provisions of these rules or other laws, regulations, or policies governing court interpreting. It is incumbent upon the interpreter to inform such persons of the interpreter's professional obligations. If after having been apprised of these obligations, the person persists in demanding that the interpreter violate them, the interpreter should inform a supervisor, the judge, the court, or another official with jurisdiction over interpreter matters to resolve the situation. Interpreters should report any solicitation or effort by another to induce or encourage them to violate any law, any provision of these rules, or any other standard governing interpreting, transliteration or sight translating promulgated by the Judiciary.
RULE 10: ACCEPTANCE OF COMPENSATION.
Interpreters shall accept no remuneration, gifts, gratuities, or any other valuable consideration in excess of their authorized compensation in the performance of their official interpreting duties.
Interpreters should never accept any type of gifts, payment, or compensation other than their due payment for services rendered. They should reject any offers of favors, presents, tips (monetary or otherwise), or other acknowledgement as a “thank you” for services rendered. Neither should they accept invitations to events where their presence, admission, or participation can be construed as remuneration for professional services or assistance rendered in the course of the discharge of their duties. Interpreters should never be perceived as taking advantage of knowledge or information obtained in the performance of their official duties, or by their access to court records, facilities, or privileges, for their own or another's personal gain.
RULE 11: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.
Interpreters shall continually improve their skills and knowledge and advance the profession through activities such as professional training and education, and interaction with colleagues and specialists in related fields.
Interpreters must continually strive to increase their knowledge of the languages they work professionally, including past and current trends in technical, vernacular, and regional terminology, as well as their application within court proceedings. They should also keep abreast of all statutes, rules of court, and policies of the judiciary that relate to the performance of their professional duties.
An interpreter should seek to continually elevate the standards of the profession through participation in workshops, professional meetings, interaction with colleagues, and reading current literature in the field.
RULE 12: AGREEMENT TO ABIDE BY THESE RULES.
Interpreters and transliterators working for the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania accept and agree to be bound by these rules, and understand that appropriate sanctions may be imposed by the ICP Administrator, hearing officer, or Court Administrator for willful violations.
Upon completion of all certification requirements, interpreters shall be sworn in and issued a certificate attesting that they have successfully completed all program requirements. At the same time they will be asked to sign a copy of these rules of conduct which will then be placed in their permanent file. They will also receive a copy of the program’s disciplinary policy.