Geoffrey Buckingham, APCI, speaks at TRAFUT (Training for the Future) workshop in Helsinki, 15 June 2012
I have a set of mixed feelings as I stand here; pride and humility in representing my profession and my association, anxiety at the calibre of my audience and their critical abilities. But above all I have a deep shame.
How can I or any British subject attend any meeting of this type and look you all in the eye?
You see, Justice interpreting in the UK is being wantonly dismembered before our eyes, in an act of vandalism never before seen; it is part of a systematic attack on the instruments of state in order to privatise them and sell them to the lowest bidder; Justice interpreting is one of the first, with the police and the National Health Service following soon. Standards of delivery are being ignored, qualifications are ignored, experience ignored, security vetting no longer necessary.
Let me start by an assessment of what Her Majesty’s Government has done wrong. This may assist you in ensuring you and your governments do not repeat these mistakes.
1.The MoJ treated buying interpreters the same as buying paper clips or any other commodity
2.They put the 'Interpreting Project' in the hands of civil servants with no knowledge, understanding or experience of CJS interpreting
3.They awarded the contract to an undercapitalised firm with no knowledge of Court interpreting
4.They did not engage in meaningful consultation with interpreters (there was a 'nonsultation')
5.They did not listen to interpreters' representative bodies
6.They ignored representations from EULITA, FIT and even Viviane Reding
7.They sought to circumvent and subvert the NRPSI, an established and respected standard, seen by EU member states as the example to follow, the “gold standard”, if you like. The contractor under the Framework Agreement is expected to set up their own register, which by implication will replace the National Register, which is the independent regulator
8.They did not put into practice the lessons of history, in particular the well-known case of R-v-Begum. This was a case where a lady who did not speak English was charged with murder of her husband following years of domestic violence. It was not clear until after her trial that she did not understand her interpreter, who was an accountant who spoke a different language, and had not understood the difference between murder and manslaughter. She was released after her successful appeal, but was ostracised by her family, rejected by her community and killed herself
9.They allowed the contractor to police itself
10.They paid lip service to the maintenance of standards, but there was never any proper assessment of quality nor any real expectation that the contractor would meet the required standards
11.They would not tolerate any criticism, being driven by political dogma
A tiny company called Applied Language Solutions, or ALS, which has barely ever made a profit, found itself the only remaining bidder at the end of a dangerously flawed process called a “Competitive Dialogue”, and obtained a contract worth £300 million. They boasted of having over 3,000 interpreters, but now they call them linguists, since so few have any qualifications in the field of justice interpreting. However, that number includes pet animals, a dead dog, and a substantial number of qualified professionals whose details were stolen by the company. Just prior to the contract going live, this tiny company was bought by a huge company called Capita on 23 December 2011. The timing may have been a coincidence. Likewise the unquestioned ease with which the purchase went through.
A framework agreement is an ‘umbrella agreement’ that sets out the terms, particularly relating to price, quality and quantity, under which individual contracts (call-offs) can be made throughout the period of the agreement, normally a maximum of 4 years. The contract was implemented nationally in the Courts on 30 January 2012. Since then there has been chaos all over the country. Professionals mostly will not work for ALS, whose standards and business practices are so dreadful, and when the Ministry of Justice issued instructions just two weeks later that their staff could book directly under the previous terms and conditions, we were faced with a choice. Do we take the work, or do we refuse it? If we took the work it would disguise the rate of ALS failures, and we would be conniving at our own extinction. Many colleagues have decided on an individual basis to refuse work, and some language groups have banded together and are maintaining effective boycotts.
We are involved in other actions too. We have held two demonstrations in London, on 15 March and 16 April, we have mobilised support from Members of Parliament, who have been of huge help. Then there is the campaign group “Interpreters for Justice”, where the APCI has teamed up with the Society for Public Service Interpreting. We have enjoyed huge success, with 100+ articles in the press and even radio and TV appearances, and a twitter feed. Then there is the Freelance Interpreters and Translators-UK group on Facebook, which has banded colleagues together for concerted action, including the daily logging of ALS failure to supply at courts all over the country. We are also collaborating with solicitors and barristers in order to have claims for compensation brought for unlawful detention and discrimination, where people who speak no English have been kept in prison, sometimes for weeks, due to ALS failure to provide an interpreter, and looking to have fake interpreters prosecuted and even imprisoned for contempt of Court, as a result of failing to discharge their duties as defined in their oath. These and other measures are an escalation of the fight in the face of a Minister and a Ministry with their head in the sand, oblivious to the suffering of victims, witnesses or defendants for which they are responsible. If you do not speak English, then there is no justice for you. You will be denied access to justice in the UK.