UK judiciary express concern about court interpreting
The Judiciary has begun to speak out against the private contract for court interpreting awarded by the Ministry of Justice to Applied Language Solutions, owned by Capita, which came into operation on 30th January 2012.
In the meantime the additional costs of trial adjournments due to shortages of interpreters in the first three months of the contract have prompted Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, to forward her concerns to the National Audit Office, asking them to look into the Framework Agreement (FWA) from a value for money perspective. The Justice Select Committee has also stated it is likely to review the matter.
David Radford, Resident Judge at Snaresbrook Crown Court (writing in the May issue of the London Advocate) says: “We have been badly affected by the change to one contractor”. He goes onto say of the contract: “It was introduced without the full board approval of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals service, including the judicial representatives. I believe the contract is now being monitored on a weekly basis.”
Concerns from other judges have been published elsewhere, including Yorkshire Evening Post. Judge Christopher Batty at Leeds Crown Court on 4th May announced he would make a formal complaint when he had to dismiss a Slovak interpreter, booked by ALS, because she could not understand what was going on in the case of a sham marriage gang.
Barrister Tariq Rehman from Birmingham Chambers was acting for one of the five defendants and witnessed the proceedings, which were saved from being abandoned when a volunteer interpreter, who is boycotting the new system, stepped in from the public gallery to help. He says:
“The bottom line, as far as I am concerned as a barrister, is that this is typical of the Minister of Justice not interested at all in the slightest as to whether the change of course is going to compromise the service and quality as long as they are going to save money. This was not an isolated incident; I have seen it elsewhere as well.”
A London Barrister, Kevin Metzger from Grays Inn Square, says: “It’s all about fairness and the principles of Common Law and natural justice – if you don’t understand what’s being said about you or you can’t explain yourself, the principal of fairness goes out the window. I really think that the authorities ought to look very carefully at the cost cutting because it will end up bringing our system of justice into disrepute.”
He added: “What is sad is that we have prided ourselves on a system of justice that the whole world has looked up to and we have now got ourselves into a situation where we could be accused of merely paying lip service to it.”
The Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI) and the Association of Police & Court Interpreters (APCI), which formed a campaign group Interpreters for Justice, to fight against the Ministry of Justice’s outsourcing arrangement, have turned down the offer of talks with ALS/Capita after its chief executive Gavin Wheeldon requested they join a ‘representative panel’ but only on condition they ‘call a halt to the boycotts’.
Guillermo Makin, Chairman of SPSI, says: “SPSI will not enter into any conversations with Capita or ALS. Our stance is motivated by concerns over the public interest and the best way to deliver justice. Such a proposal would provide succour and credibility to a form of outsourcing that SPSI was set up to combat.”
The majority of APCI and SPSI members, who are professionally qualified interpreters who worked under the previous system, continue to refuse to sign up to the new arrangement because it has lowered standards and undermined justice.
Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman, APCI, says: “We call on the Ministry of Justice to scrap the agreement for outsourcing interpreter work which is now being called into question by judges and the wider legal profession. No statistics about this contract with ALS/Capita have been collated from courts, and Ministers themselves admit that accountability as laid out in the Framework Agreement itself is routinely ignored. Public money is therefore being spent in a manner which is not just opaque but hidden. Further, we understand that complaints lodged by courts are ignored or lost in an incomprehensible procedure”.
Interpreters for Justice (APCI and SPSI) have set out terms for talks with the Ministry of Justice as follows:
- The Framework Agreement must be scrapped and the contract with ALS must be stopped because the terms of the agreement have been breached.
- A timetable of 24 months is proposed in order to develop a lawful and more efficient system. This must be developed using open and transparent consultation with interpreters’ organisations and other stakeholders.
- Use of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), which was previously used and which comprises a list of professionally qualified interpreters, should be re-instated as an interim measure.
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Notes to Editors
- Interpreters for Justice is united against the MoJ’s new Framework Agreement for the provision of public service interpreting and was formed by the APCI and SPSI in order to represent the views of their members, all of whom are committed to upholding the quality and professionalism of public service interpreting in the UK.
- Results of a survey commissioned by campaign group Interpreters for Justice and carried out by consultancy Involvis, shows 90% of 1,206 interpreters who took part in the online survey have not and will not register for the new system administered by Applied Language Solutions (ALS).
- Just (6%) or 71 of the 1,206 interpreters who completed the survey said they had decided to undergo the assessment put in place by Applied Language Solutions (ALS). Of these, 93.5% said the assessment was ‘flawed’, ‘unprofessional’ and ‘humiliating’ and the majority will not continue with ALS.
Sources for items in the press release
- The London Advocate is the newsletter of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and is available here http://www.lccsa.org.uk/assets/documents/advocate/london%20advocate%20issue%2069.pdf
- An editorial by Rebecca Niblock of solicitors Dalton Homes Gray, in the London Advocate (May issue) says: “The new scheme has created problems of two kinds. First, ALS cannot cope with the demand for interpreters … ALS interpreters frequently attend court very late – if they show up at all. While this is frustrating for solicitors, the real impact is on defendants. For a client who has spent hours in a cell waiting to appear in court and who has no idea what is being said about them – let alone what their fate will be – the situation must be terrifying. Second, when ALS interpreters do attend court, they are often unable to do their jobs properly.”
- The Leeds Crown Court story is published here http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/prison-vow-over-sham-marriages-as-yorkshire-gang-sentenced-1-4519190
- See an article in Law Society Gazette published 17 May:
- A dossier is attached with recent examples of court issues with ALS booked interpreters.