Language problem: spending watchdog joins criticism of new court interpreters’ contract
The performance of the company that won the newly privatised contract for court interpretation services has been damned as ‘wholly inadequate’ by the spending watchdog. A report by the National Audit Office is critical of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for its insufficient due diligence and failure to take heed of the concerns of interpreters about the ability of Applied Language Solutions (ALS) to deliver.
In August last year the MoJ signed a new agreement for language services with ALS, now a subsidiary of the service provide Capita, for the provision of interpretation and translation services. The largest of those agreements – worth an estimated £90 million over five years – began in January this year.
You can read John Storer, a partner with criminal defence firm, CDA solicitors, in Lincolnshire on the brewing controversy over ALS on www.thejusticegap.com HERE.
You can read Marc Starr, a registered public service interpreter based in Manchester who works in Spanish and Portuguese, talking about his concerns on www.thejusticegap.com HERE.
The Ministry of Justice has admitted that £12m of savings predicted for the first year of would ‘probably not be achieved’.
‘So it was with some misgivings that I read that the Ministry of Justice planned to contract out interpreting requirements. My concerns increased when it was announced that the contract had been awarded and that pretty much every interpreter I knew was refusing to sign up.’
Earlier this year a murder trial was brought to a sudden halt when the court interpreter confessed that he was simply an unqualified stand-in for his wife, who was busy. It was reported in the Daily Mail that the judge halted the trial of Rajvinder Kaur, who killed her mother-in-law with a rolling pin, when ‘the court realised interpreter Mubarak Lone was leaving out key words and phrases in his translating’. Ian Kelcey, former chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, has called the new arrangements ‘little short of a debacle’. ‘The problem with ALS is that the government decided to do it and chose someone who probably can’t provide the capacity. We are not sure they are using interpreters of a requisite standard,’ he told the Guardian. ‘This dispute is about the risks of ignoring the standing of a profession that is an essential component for the smooth running of any legal process that involves people whose first language is not English,’ explained the interpreter Marc Starr on www.thejusticegap.com.
The strongly worded NAO report damns ALS’s early performance as ‘wholly inadequate’. Its key conclusions are:
The MoJ’s due diligence on ALS’s successful bid was ‘not thorough enough’;
The MoJ ‘did not give sufficient weight to the concerns and dissatisfaction’ expressed by many interpreters;
The MoJ ‘underestimated the project risks’ when it decided to switch from a regional to a national rollout;
The MoJ ‘allowed the contract to become fully operational before it was ready’; and
ALS’s performance was ‘wholly inadequate’ leading to missed performance targets and around a fifth of the interpretation work in courts and tribunals being done under old arrangements.