Helen Grant, Nick de Bois, Merry Men
Before we start thinking we have a foot in the door at the MoJ and its wider circle, we should remember who we are up against: Helen Grant & Nick de Bois. Both of them are first-term Tories who are already in their early 50's and no doubt feel the need to get their feet under the table smartly. Grant needs some good publicity after the recent C4 Dispatches programme on MPs' expenses. Meanwhile Nick de Bois gained a lot of kudos with the anti-interpreter lobby from his use of FOIs in 'unearthing' statistics relating to interpreting costs in the NHS (April 2011). Grant formerly sat on the Justice Select Committee until she was moved upstairs to make way for - Nick de Bois (31.10.11).
There was an elegant 'pas de deux' between the two of them on the day of Grant's appearance alongside Wheeldon in front of the Justice Select Committee (30.10.12). At the committee meeting de Bois allowed Grant to ramble on about how she'd had bad experiences under the old system of booking interpreters. Lo & behold in the Commons, on the same day, de Bois asks Grant for a 5-year breakdown of translation costs at Magistrates' Courts. This allows Grant in her answer to use the lack of any firm figures both as a stick to beat the old system (yet again) and as justification for the introduction of the new system under which such information 'will be more readily available'
Funny that. I've dredged up an old FOI answer (70507) from June 2011 which gives the following estimates of expenditure on interpreting at Magistrates' Courts: £14.8 million for 2009-2010 & £12.6 million for 2010-2011. OK it's only two years' worth of statistics, not five, but it's something to go on. The figures comes from the MoJ where Grant of course is a minister. Shouldn't she have mentioned to de Bois in her written answer that there had been an almost 15% drop in interpreting costs over that short period? This squares with evidence in the Telegraph on 27.02.12 showing that Gloucestershire Constabulary's expenditure on interpreting & translating had dropped 27% in 4 years. But of course to suggest that there was a pre-existing downward trend in Police & Court interpreting costs would have sat ill with the perception, cleverly orchestrated in the media over the course of 2011/12, that interpreting costs were sky-rocketing.
Of course this was a perception that Nick de Bois had fostered with his FOIs into NHS costs. Apropos of which, it's worth reading the report produced by 2020Health.org called 'Lost in Translation'. The report is compromised by the infelicitous phrasing of its FOI requests to the NHS institutions concerned. It expresses concern that 'a large number of [NHS] Trusts either misinterpret[ed] the questions or disput[ed] the phrasing and definitions of the words used in the questions'. The chief culprit was the following sentence: 'How many languages do you translate patient information into as of 1 Sept 2011?'
Maybe they should have paid a good translator to put it into good English.