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    New Interpreter Code of Ethics - SCR 63 - Interpreter Code of Ethics Summary

    Formalizing the role of court interpreters as professionals improves access to justice to persons who are deaf and to people who speak foreign languages or are not fluent in English.

    Elsa Lamelas

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 3, March 2003

    SCR 63 - Interpreter Code of Ethics Summary

    The Interpreter Code of Ethics is codified as Supreme Court Rule 63. The full code is found at www.courts.state.wi.us.

    • SCR 63.01 requires accuracy and completeness. The interpreter must not add, alter, or omit meaning to what is being said. The rule makes unethical the practice of editing and filling in answers or rephrasing questions, no matter how well-intentioned the interpreter. The rule also is breached by summary interpreting, insufficient language skill, or lack of familiarity with court interpreting.

    Hon. Elsa 

LamelasHon. Elsa Lamelas, Michigan 1978, is a Milwaukee County circuit court judge. She is cochair of the Committee to Improve Interpreting and Translation in Wisconsin Courts. English is her second language.

    The author is grateful to Marcia Vandercook, Office of Court Operations, who staffed the committee and identified most supporting authority found in the accompanying article.

    • SCR 63.02 imposes a duty on the interpreter of disclosing qualifications and experience. The rule is being used to teach judges how to conduct voir dire of prospective interpreters so that the qualifications of interpreters used in courts will improve.

    • SCR 63.03 requires impartiality. This rule should bring to an end those situations in which persons with an interest in the outcome of the case are permitted to serve as interpreters.

    • SCR 63.04, 63.05, and 63.06 relate to professional demeanor, confidentiality, and the restriction of public comment. The requirements are familiar to judges and lawyers but are not necessarily known to newcomers to the court. Court interpreters are precluded from public comment even when the subject matter is neither privileged nor confidential.

    • SCR 63.07 prohibits the interpreter from giving legal advice or expressing personal opinions. In the past, court interpreters have at times exceeded their role by giving counsel, defining constitutional principles, and even explaining the plea questionnaire. At times, judges, courts, and defense attorneys have prompted interpreters to take on these responsibilities. This important rule clarifies and limits the scope of the interpreter's role.

    • SCR 63.08 and 63.10 require the interpreter to assess and develop professional skills.

    • SCR 63.09 requires the interpreter to report ethical violations and efforts to impede compliance with the law, court rule, or policy to the court. By identifying the court as the authority to whom to report, the rule makes it clear that the duty of the interpreter is to the court, not to either side of the dispute.
    • Web page provides guidance to lawyers, interpreters

    • A new Wisconsin court Web page can help guide lawyers who are unfamiliar with legal issues surrounding the use of interpreters. The site also contains helpful information for people interested in working as interpreters. Found at www.courts.state.wi.us, the site provides links to:

    • The Court Interpreter Code of Ethics, described in the accompanying article.

    • The Wisconsin Court Interpreters Handbook. Used in conjunction with the Code of Ethics (SCR 63), the handbook is a reliable guide to using interpreters. By becoming familiar with the contents of the handbook and ethics code, attorneys will be better able to protect their clients' interests in criminal and civil litigation. For instance, the handbook provides questions that may be used in the voir dire examination of a potential court interpreter. Voir dire is the best vehicle available to determine intepreter qualifications in a jurisdiction that, like ours, lacks a formal certification process.

    • Court Interpreter Statutes, Rules, and Case Law. Statutes: State law regarding the use of interpreters is not codified at one place, which makes it difficult for attorneys to locate applicable statutes. Federal law in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act also is applicable when interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing are used. This portion of the site references federal and state legislation that may apply to persons who lack the ability to communicate in spoken English. Case authority: Wisconsin courts have issued several decisions pertaining to those situations involving interpreters. These cases are cited and summarized.

    • Court Interpreter Orientation and Training. As a result of special funding obtained from the Office of Refugee Services, Department of Workforce Development, the director of state courts has provided two-day interpreter orientation training. More sessions are anticipated for 2003 and will be announced on this site.

    • Interpreter Resources. This is a comprehensive list of institutions offering interpreter or language training for the legal and other fields.

    Finally, the courts provide a Court Interpreter Links page at www.courts.state.wi.us. This page is a useful starting point to access diverse sites such as the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), and many others.