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Ethical Obligation

Kind of questions on ethical obligation
I would like to put a scenario, in which an ethical obligation arose, for you to discuss and I would like to invite other professionals to participate in this discussion as well. I would be quite grateful for any feedback. A little contribution surely can make much difference to me, thanks.
A scenario is that I was given an audio- tape to transcribe the context of my native language into English. The audio- tape is the recording of a police procedure, in which the police investigated the accused person, who does not speak English so that an interpreter was used in the procedure.
What I found out in the content of the audio-tape amazed me. There were a lot of misinterpretations, most of all, because of misinterpretations the accused person was unfairly disadvantaged in relation to his statutory rights.  The interpreter seemed not to be aware of some legal terms such as ' arrest rights', 'submission of forensic procedure, and so on, as a result the accused person had been locked up in contrary to his legal rights. If the accused person had understood his legal rights, he would have been released on bail outright. I thought that it is a critical error at the cause of interpreter's misinterpretation. Our criminal justice system is based on the notions that " Accused person is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been proven" and "the burden of proof lies with the prosecution'. At the start of the investigation, every accused person, except otherwise prescribed in any provisions contained in any specific law, shall have a right to be released on bail in accordance with the notions and statutory rights. So, in my scenario the accused person had been suffering irreversible damage. It is not fair.
My questions are:
  1. If I transcribe this audio-tape I would critically damage the competency of the interpreter and probably affect the industry and professional solidarity. Please comment.
  2. What if I would be summoned in a court of law to give testimony in relation to the context of misinterpretations? Please discuss.
  3. In this case do I need to inform my agency, which gave me the translation assignment, of the misinterpretation in order to get the agency to take caution in allocating assignments to qualified interpreter in the future?
  4. Now I am disclosing information, which I should keep private, in this forum. Am I in breach of ethical obligation?

29 Comments to Ethical Obligation:

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Saleem Habibullah on Saturday, 19 March 2011 8:47 PM
I empathise with you very much. My thoughts on your questions are as follows bearing in mind that they are based on my understanding and interpretation of the AUSIT Code of Ethics for Interpreters and Translators – summary version (Refer: http://www.ausit.org/eng/showpage.php3?id=650). I have attached only the relevant parts of the General Principles for easy reference. And I will insert the relevant General Principle numbers at the appropriate places (eg. “*2” for “Confidentiality”) throughout my answers. My opinions on your relevant questions: 1. You will not damage the other interpreter’s competency or the professional solidarity in any way because you (as an accredited interpreter and translator) are merely transcribing the audiotape at the request of the agency as accurately as possible (* 3and 5). In doing so you are carrying out your responsibility of rendering the work as accurately as possible. However you should take due care in the way you highlight the errors ie. in a professional manner without any intention to tarnish the other interpreter’s reputation (*8). The agency is ultimately responsible to co-ordinate in this matter and work with both of you before the final version is released (*2 and 8). 2. Since you would have full confidence in your quality of work you should assist the authorities where necessary without any qualms (*2). 3. The agency would know the serious discrepancies by default since the matter would come to light after your review of the transcript. Whether the agency take due diligence in giving out work to appropriately qualified practitioners in the future is obviously not in your hand. That would be entirely on the onus of the relevant agency whether they wish to uphold their integrity and ethics. We interpreters and translators do know very well how some agencies operate but then that is a different matter. 4. I do not see what ethics you have breached because you have not named anybody in your discussions. The way I see it, by you highlighting such irregularity, you have only enhanced and helped the cause of all other interpreters and translators – surely this amounts to true professional solidarity! ================================================================ General Principles . . . 2. Confidentiality . . . Interpreters and translators shall not disclose information acquired during the course of their assignments. • Interpreters and translators may only disclose information with the permission of their clients (or if the law requires disclosure). • If other interpreters or translators are involved in the same assignment and require briefing, this should be done after obtaining the clients' permission, and all are obliged to maintain confidentiality. 3. Competence . . . Interpreters and translators shall undertake only work which they are competent to perform in the language areas for which they are "accredited" or "recognised" by NAATI. • Acceptance of an assignment is a declaration of one's competence and constitutes a contract. If, during an assignment, it becomes clear that the work is beyond the interpreter's or translator's competence, they should inform clients immediately and withdraw. • If an interpreter or translator is asked to provide a second opinion or to review alterations to the work of another practitioner, there should be final agreement between all interpreters and translators concerned. 5. Accuracy . . Interpreters and translators shall take all reasonable care to be accurate. 8. Professional solidarity Interpreters and translators shall respect and support their fellow professionals. They should: • assist and further the interests of colleagues, refraining from comments injurious to the reputation of a colleague • promote and enhance the integrity of the profession through trust and mutual respect. Differences of opinion should be expressed with candour and respect - not by denigration -refraining from behaviour considered unprofessional by their peers. ===============================================================
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Tony Latt on Sunday, 20 March 2011 7:21 AM
Thank you very much Saleem. Your comments help a lot. You know sometimes people have feeling of uneasiness that they could not let it out because of the so called rules or ethics or principles or whatever. I have been feeling quite uncomfortable since I did this job. To make it worst I happened to be an interpreter with this particular case in the court of law. Fortunately, in the course of the proceeding, the prosecution dropped the case when the defense lawyer put his stance on that the accused person had not been given his statutory rights at the police station when he was under investigation on police forensic procedure even though he was adequately provided with interpreter. Since then, my feeling of uneasiness has been growing steadily and I know that I have to let it out. My blog is the only place I could let it happen. So I let it out and you remedied my problem. Thank you for giving me your professional consultation. Appreciate it.

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