Working in policing and legal contexts: What kinds of ethical dilemmas do interpreters face?

Dr Loene Howes1

1University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

High-quality interpreting is essential to providing equitable access to justice. This presentation considers what can be learned from interpreters’ ethical dilemmas in policing and legal contexts. A developing profession, interpreting is characterised by diversity, as members are drawn from a range of cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. One unifying feature of interpreting is its code of ethics. The code also represents an important step towards professionalisation, along with developing certification pathways and establishing health and legal specialisations. As part of a larger project, interpreters were interviewed about their experiences of working in policing and legal contexts. Participants consistently referred to various aspects of the code of ethics, highlighting its function as a guide to practice. Participants also raised several ethical dilemmas, or personally unresolved and troubling incidents, that arose in their work. Despite participants’ familiarity with the code of ethics, many found it inadequate for providing solutions to their dilemmas. In some instances, this was true even when the code of ethics included guidance on the topic of their concern. Dilemmas often reflected mismatches between the ethical code and an interpreter’s own moral code and were sometimes compounded by others’ poor understanding of the interpreter’s role. The presentation argues that to contribute to professional development and improved practice, it is important for interpreters to identify, discuss, and grapple with ethical dilemmas. Equally important is developing awareness of such dilemmas amongst those with whom interpreters work in policing and legal contexts.


Loene is a lecturer in Criminology in the College of Arts, Law and Education at the University of Tasmania. She is a researcher in the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies and the Institute for the Study of Social Change. Loene’s interdisciplinary and applied research aims to contribute to improved social justice by enhancing the effectiveness of communication in the criminal justice process. Her current project explores interpreters’ work in policing and broader legal contexts.