Foreign suspects are being released from police custody due to lack of interpreters
Foreign crime suspects are being released from police stations before they are questioned because cost-cutting has caused a shortage of interpreters.
In one case it took West Midlands Police two weeks to find an interpreter for someone who had volunteered to make a statement in an Asian language.
A new Framework Agreement contract for interpreting services, awarded to translation services company Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in November 2011, was supposed to save West Midlands Police £750,000 every year.
But the police force has a shortage of interpreters because many will not sign up to the deal as the conditions and pay are worse than they had before the deal was made.
Rather than save money this has meant the scheme is increasing costs as the force has had to bring in more expensive interpreters from Leeds and Manchester to cover.
Police chiefs have been forced to admit the shortages have meant a small number of foreign suspects, arrested for low-level crimes such as shoplifting, have had to be freed on bail before questioning.
A police spokesman said in all cases where the suspect was released on police bail they had returned to the station to answer questions at a later date.
Geoffrey Buckingham, chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI) and spokesman for campaign group Interpreters for Justice - set up to get the framework scrapped - called for the immediate end of the arrangement, which came into effect on January 30.
He said the Government was already 'reaping the whirlwind' created by the deal, and it would only get worse.
'There's a colossal number of examples of failures of ALS to supply and some catastrophes have ensued. You don't have to be a genius to work out the sort of sums that are involved. They look enormous and they are.'
He said working on the basis of 320 magistrates courts in England and Wales, and a rough average of two interpreter cases a day, then the rough cost of £1,000 to adjourn a case, the sums of money wasted because of unqualified or inexperienced interpreters was huge.
'One hundred cases a week, times 320, times £1,000 equals £3.2 million,' he said.
'That's how much, in magistrates courts alone, this contract is costing - that doesn't take into account police costs, nor prison costs.
'These are fundamental breaches of human rights, and what's going to happen when cases fall apart at crown court because it's discovered that the translation of a witness statement or victim statement is completely wrong?'
ALS has responded to the criticisms of the system by saying it has 'implemented significant improvements' to deal with the problems.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: 'There have been an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.
'They have put measures in place to resolve these issues and we have already seen a marked improvement.'