26 Nov The Militant Interpreter
Merriam-Webster defines militant as “having or showing a desire or willingness to use strong, extreme, and sometimes forceful methods to achieve something,” or, in short, “aggressively active (as in a cause).”
An advocate, on the other hand, is “ a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy.”
Is the difference between an advocate and a militant a matter of degrees? Either way, by definition a militant or an advocate cannot be an impartial or neutral person, whereas an interpreter, particularly in a judiciary setting, cannot be anything but impartial and neutral. Does that mean a judiciary interpreter can never support a cause that he or she believes in?
Hardly. Interpreters are people with all sorts of causes near and dear to their hearts. Mine is saving abandoned and abused animals. Others may want to save the planet from wasteful plastics. Perhaps a favorite cause for some is a literacy programs for inner city teenagers, or taking art appreciation outside of the museums through urban murals. We can even be militant vegans, or corporate take-your-kid-to-work advocates. But the litmus test must be: does this in any way affect my impartiality and neutrality when I have to interpret in a legal proceeding?
If it does, then you have to either recuse yourself from the case, or abandon your cause. Since most, if not all, causes are based on personal convictions and principles, chances are that in the face of such a choice, an ethical interpreter will recuse him or herself from the case, and simply move on to the next one where there will be no conflict because the required neutrality will not be lacerated.
Of course, there is no “ethics tribunal” for interpreters. It is up to each one of the members of this profession to uphold the Code of Ethics that has been promulgated through NAJIT, and to simply know which lines can be crossed and which ones cannot.
Staying ethical when you have a cause also means knowing yourself.
I know I could never be an interpreter in an animal cruelty case because I would certainly want the perpetrator to go to prison for a long, long time! It’s what is known as a “no-brainer”. If someone has polluted the rivers with illegal toxins, I can keep my opinions under wraps and interpret with no trace of bias whatsoever, even if I think the defendant is scum. I can vent later on, with my colleagues, behind closed doors, if need be.
If you have a cause in your life and are also a judiciary interpreter, take a moment to ask yourself: does my cause make me biased in a way that could affect my performance? Will I try to influence the outcome of a case through my choice of words while interpreting because of my personal beliefs? Are my opinions so strong that I am no longer perceived as a disinterested person in a case for which I have been called to interpret?
Bear in mind also that if you are a judiciary employee, there are liberties other citizens have that you don’t. Employees of the federal judicial branch, for example, cannot openly campaign for any political candidate. We cannot speak to the press without authorization from higher-ups, and we cannot post on any social media images that depict our place of employment. No selfies at your desk!
So if you contract for the state or federal judiciary, find out what the rules are regarding your “freedom of speech”, and make sure to follow them. If you don’t like the rules, it is your choice not to accept engagements in those venues. As long as we each remain within the boundaries of our Professional Code of Conduct, we can be faithful to both, our individual principles and our collective ethical responsibilities.