Financial Times: Courts’ interpreter contract attacked
Courtrooms experienced chaos after the Ministry of Justice awarded a contract for court interpreters to a company clearly unable to deliver, said the chairman of an influential committee of MPs.
The £90m contract with Applied Language Solutions, now owned by Capita, burdened the taxpayer with extra costs while damaging the reputation of the British justice system, said Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee said.
Ms Hodge criticised the contract after a report by the National Audit Office found ALS supplied an interpreter in only 58 per cent of hearings in February 2012, a month after the company took control of the service, against a target of 98 per cent.
She said that where interpreters were supplied, their quality was often “inexcusably bad”. “This resulted in poorly translated charges to defendants and incorrect evidence to juries. ALS could not even guarantee that interpreters had undergone mandatory criminal records checks,” she said.
Double the number of trials were disrupted – because interpreters could not be supplied – in the first quarter of 2012 than in the same period the year before, the NAO report found.
Ms Hodge said: “My concern is that the resulting delays and the hearing cancellations caused distress to victims, defendants and witnesses, additional costs to the taxpayer and damage to to the reputation of the justice system.”
The committee called on the ministry immediately to strengthen its approach to complex contracts, after the report found it was not “thorough enough” in its due diligence.
ALS needs to improve and the ministry must ensure that Capita, which purchased ALS in December 2011, checks all interpreters working on the contract as soon as possible, Ms Hodge said.
There have been more than 2,000 official complaints about interpreters being poorly-trained and turning up late since the contract began.
In one instance, an employee sent her unqualified husband to work in her place, and in another, owners of a cat, which had been signed up as a “feline language specialist” as a joke, were asked by ALS to bring the pet for a language test.
The Ministry of Justice said the contract was expected to save it £15m a year. It said “We accept that there were problems at the start of the new contract in January but we have now seen a very significant improvement in performance and are confident that this trend is continuing.”
The report comes as the government has decided to blacklist poor suppliers and is considering the performance of G4S, a large outsourcing group, “very carefully” after it failed to deliver enough security guards for the Olympic Games.
ALS said the company was awarded the contract to address the weaknesses of the previous service and that, as with the old system, there had been challenges.
ALS said the company’s acquisition by Capita had helped improve its service with more than 96 per cent of booking requests now fulfilled.