South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, July 2007, #2.
South Carolina Court Interpreters and the Rules of Professional Conduct
South Carolina LawyerJuly 2007South Carolina Court Interpreters and the Rules of Professional ConductBy Tammy Besherse, with contributions from Dr. Virginia BenmamanImagine this scenario. Someone raped you. Since the assault you have had many tearful, sleepless nights. You want the man who did this punished, so you muster up the courage to testify in court about the horrible ordeal you went though. During your testimony you state you had "forced intercourse." It took a great deal of effort and energy for you to get on the stand and testify to that. The interpreter, appointed to the case, states you "made love" to the defendant. Unfortunately, this situation is real and happened to a woman in Virginia in 1978. Mollie M. Pawlosky, Note, When Justice is Lost in the "Translation": Gonzalez v. United States, an "Interpretation" of the Court Interpreters Act of 1978, 45 De Paul L. Rev. 435, 443 (Winter 1996). Note that the actual case was unpublished.
This example demonstrates that, for non-English speaking participants, skilled, competent interpreters are necessary. A non-English speaking participant is an individual who is unable to communicate in English or has a limited ability to do so. Hearing-impaired persons fall under this category. Interpreters protect peoples' rights. They facilitate the cross-cultural communication that enables Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons to fully participate in court proceedings. "Limited English Proficient" refers to a person who has a limited ability to read, write and/or speak English. Interpreters must completely understand the subject matter in which they work to competently convert information from one language into another. Interpreters must also have an excellent command of at least two languages, as well as good memory and notetaking skills. In addition, they must possess strong analytical skills. Finally, it is essential that interpreters use and abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters to accomplish their role. The S.C. Code of Laws articulates the requirements necessary to interpret in a South Carolina court. See §15-27-15, §15-27-15 and §17-1-50.
Rules of Professional Conduct
The S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters (RPC) became law on June 21, 2006, and plays an important role. These rules are set out in South Carolina Appellate Rule 511. The RPC aids interpreters in recognizing and avoiding unethical behavior. Offering legal advice is improper. Interpreters who did not know this behavior was improper are now on notice. Also, the RPC makes it clear to the interpreter that he or she must act as an interpreter, and not an advocate. In addition, the RPC helps judges ascertain the qualifications of an interpreter based on the interpreter's knowledge of the RPC. Finally, interpreters can cite the RPC if asked to perform a task or action that is unethical. All court interpreters should know and abide by the precepts in the RPC. Judges and attorneys should also learn the RPC and expect compatible conduct from interpreters.
The following cannons are part of the RPC. This article will discuss each one, but not necessarily in this order.
RULE 1 Accuracy and Completeness of Interpretation
RULE 2 Representation of Qualifications
RULE 3 Impartiality and Avoidance of Conflict of Interest
RULE 4 Professional Demeanor
RULE 5 Confidentiality
RULE 6 Restriction of Public Comment
RULE 7 Scope of Practice
RULE 8 Assessing and Reporting Impediments to Performance
RULE 9 Duty to Report Ethical Violations
RULE 10 Professional Development
Many times people presuppose that the interpreter is an advocate for the party for whom they interpret. Therefore, it is imperative that court interpreters remain neutral, objective, unbiased and disclose all real and perceived conflicts of interest. S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters, Rule 3 "Impartiality and Avoidance of Conflict of Interest." Conflicts of interest could include close relationships with one of the parties, whether it is an attorney, witness or juror. If an...