Mind your language
The Ministry of Justice’s privatisation and outsourcing of interpreting services is proving to be more costly and inefficient than the services they replaced according to Interpreters for Justice which represents professional interpreters who are members of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI) and the Society of Public Service Interpreters (SPSI).
On 30 January, court interpreting services were outsourced to a single commercial agency, Applied Language Solutions Ltd, owned by Capita, to cover the justice sector in England and Wales. Previously interpreters were booked from the National Register where they had been subject to security checks and a rigorous registration procedure, and were required to have postgraduate level qualifications.
According to a recent survey carried out by Involvis on behalf of SPSI and APCI, up to 90% of Registered Public Service Interpreters refuse to work under the new system, citing reasons including poor quality, unacceptably low standards and questionable numbers of workers.
The first three months of the contract have demonstrated that the agency is struggling to provide an acceptable service.
According to a Crime Line survey, in April 40% of cases requiring an interpreter were disrupted due to no interpreter attending. Consequently, suspects risk being released into the open, and defendants are unnecessarily remanded in custody. Victims and witnesses have to go through traumatic experiences several times. In April, Judge Toby Hooper QC at Worcester CC had to apologise to a Polish defendant for having to adjourn his case for a fourth time. He told him, ‘I am ashamed of the system which fails yet again to provide an interpreter for you.’
Several police forces are already using the new system and officers have been shocked by its inefficiency. An officer of West Midlands Police has written on the interpreter web site linguistlounge.org, ‘On Wednesday I was trying to get a Polish interpreter for a murder inquiry and was told there was none available until Thursday! It’s a joke...’
The costs from failed court hearings, adjournments and applications for Wasted Costs Orders are mounting and it is anticipated they will cost the public purse much more than the £18 million ALS claimed it would be able to save. ALS workers have been sent hundreds of miles, on one occasion from Newcastle to Ipswich for a hearing that lasted eight minutes. Chief executive of Fair Trials International Jago Russell says, ‘When Britons are arrested abroad we correctly expect their basic rights to be respected. We must not, at the same time, neglect the rights of foreign nationals in our own legal system.’
A recent article on BBC London news revealed that interpreters’ personal data has been stolen by ALS, where ALS/Capita holds their details on its database without consent, and a mass complaint has been made to the ICO for data theft. Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman of the APCI said to the BBC, ‘Interpreters feel as though they have been used like cannon fodder, with their details being bought and sold like some kind of commodity’.
Interpreters’ representative bodies including PIA, SPSI, APCI and SOMI are calling for checks as to the true identity and vetting status of ALS/Capita workers, as they are receiving ‘the most alarming reports of organised crime infiltrating the ALS/Capita recruitment process, which appears unregulated.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson 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.’
Interpreters have put forward proposals for cost effective and quality assured alternatives for discussion, which have been rejected out of hand by the MoJ. But they are united in their struggle to uphold the right of access to justice for all and are expressing in clear and ever stronger terms their rejection of the FWA.
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