As UK interpreters strike, Google “scabs”
Recently in the UK, interpreters have been on strike ever since the Ministry of Justice signed a cost-cutting deal with Applied Language Solutions to provide translators and interpreters for court services in England and Wales.
The government deal with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) was supposed to cut £18m off the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) bill – around 23 percent of the budget. The MoJ agreed to a five-year contract with ALS in August 2011 to provide translation and interpreting services to agencies across the criminal justice system. The contract began on 1 February 2012. In December 2011, ALS was acquired by services firm Capita. But what was intended as a cost-cutting measure will now end up costing the government thousands of pounds every day in delays and adjournments.
Around 1,000 interpreters have not been turning up to court because of the reduced pay and expenses offered by ALS. As a result, court hearings reliant on interpreters have been delayed or postponed, at a high cost to the MoJ and the taxpayer.
Before ALS took over the court translation services, interpreters were contacted directly through the National Register of Public Service Interpreters – a register which currently has around 2,300 people that according to Mr Buckingham, was the “envy” of other European countries.
To get on to the register, linguists were required to have a degree level qualification in their language, and if applicable, a diploma in public service interpreting. For full status, rather than interim, they also need 400 hours of experience. A CRB check is also required.
However, in addition to the lack of translating staff, ALS has been accused of providing unqualified interpreters to court, because a lack of qualified interpreters who are willing to work for the company.
As reported, At Boston Magistrates court on February 1, a Polish interpreter turned up to court wearing a hat and overalls and didn’t understand the solicitor when he said they needed to go down to the cells.
The following day at Basildon Magistrates Court, the interpreter did not know what an oath was. It emerged that this was her first time in court, and she was not familiar with the legal language or protocol.
The latest debacle now includes a clerk at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court, who was forced this week to handwrite in Lithuanian details of a defendant’s next hearing after finding the words with Google Translate.
Ipswich criminal solicitor, Andrew Cleal, said that the court had been unable to get a Lithuanian interpreter via the central service run by ALS to translate proceedings for his client who had been charged with shoplifting. ‘We hope he understood, but as none of us spoke Lithuanian, we can’t be sure,’ Cleal said.
He added: ‘This matter should have been dealt with by midday, but I didn’t get out of court until 4.30pm as we were waiting for an interpreter. I will be billing the Legal Services Commission for my waiting time.’
Even more frightening is that some police chiefs have admitted that, in a small number of cases, foreign suspects arrested for low-level crimes such as shoplifting have had to be freed on bail before questioning.
When contacted for comment, an ALS spokeswoman said on Tuesday: ‘Assigning qualified and experienced linguists to assignments and insisting on continuous professional development, while reducing operational inefficiencies, remains the focus of our service.’
Are you a translator in the UK? What are your thoughts on the MOJ, ALS or this situation in general?