Letter to Helen Grant MP
Helen Grant MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ
5 March 2012
FWA contract with ALS/Capita for provision of Interpreting and Translation services within the CJS
Dear Ms Grant
In November 2012 my MP, Lynne Featherstone, put some questions to you on my behalf regarding the MOJ contract with ALS/Capita for interpreting provision within the criminal justice and immigration systems. In your response you made it clear that you had great confidence in the new system and believed that it was providing a better and more economical service than that which it replaced. I must say that I disagreed with every point you made in your reply but did not respond to your letter immediately because I was waiting to see the published findings of the two parliamentary select committees that have looked into this matter.
Having now read both reports I am gratified, though not surprised, to see that all the points raised by colleagues within the interpreting profession and amongst the legal fraternity have been echoed and endorsed. I wonder whether the observations and criticisms of your parliamentary peers have gone any way towards changing your views on this matter. Do you continue to believe that the contract is providing good value? Can you state categorically that it is saving money, despite the masses of evidence of very costly delays in court due to the inefficiency of the agency and its "linguists"? Are you determined, even in the light of all that has been revealed about the failings of ALS/Capita, that this ill-conceived contract should remain in place?
You have said on several occasions that the previous system was "not fit for purpose". Few people who had experience of the previous system would claim that it was perfect, but it was certainly immeasurably better than the arrangements with which you have sought to replace it. (I use the word "sought" advisedly, because, of course, the courts and tribunals still rely largely on the well established and dependable booking system that was used before the new contract went live.) Do you, then, consider the service the MOJ is now receiving from ALS/Capita as "fit for purpose", or even adequate? And what have you to say about the costs that have been incurred due to the countless interpreter no-shows and incompetence under the new system? We have heard very little about that but it does not take a mathematician to calculate that these extra costs must far outweigh any apparent savings made.
It is my opinion that this contract was pushed through because the MOJ had no appreciation of the levels of skill and training necessary to do court interpreting work properly. Had they had such an appreciation they could never have believed that highly trained professionals would be prepared to sign up in any numbers to such an inept and exploitative mode of working. It was obviously thought that on being presented with a fait accompli professional interpreters would sheepishly agree to the new arrangements and think it prudent to keep their reservations to themselves. As we now know, however, that did not happen and the professionals' reservations and warnings, though ignored by the MOJ, have now been seconded by your colleagues in Parliament.
Of course, we are all human and can make mistakes. What is important, it seems to me, is to be able to acknowledge our errors when evidence of them becomes undeniable. To continue on a course of action and ignore good and well informed advice is folly indeed and no good can come of it for anyone. It is my hope now that the MOJ will admit that it has got things terribly wrong and revert to the system that the JSC has endorsed as being very much fit for purpose. This is the only course of action now that can restore any faith in the fairness and professionalism of interpreting services within the CJS.
Thank you for your attention and I await your reply with interest.
John McCarthy MA, BA, DPSI (Law)
Member of the Association of police and Court Interpreters (APCI)