Letter to Sadiq Khan MP
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP
273 Balham High Road
6 March 2012
FWA contract with ALS/Capita for provision of Interpreting and Translation services within the CJS
Dear Mr Khan
I am sure that you will be well aware of the contract for interpreting services to the CJS that the present government awarded to ALS (later Capita) more than a year ago. You will no doubt also be aware that many aspects of the contract are demonstrably problematic and, therefore, highly controversial.
Interpreters with experience of working in the courts and in other areas of the CJS were from the start highly sceptical about the MOJ's decision to scrap the previous arrangements for procuring interpreting services - whereby interpreters registered with the National Register of Public Services Interpreters (NRPSI) were booked directly by the courts and tribunals - and entrusting this provision with a commercial company. Because court interpreters were, in all but the rarest of languages, obliged to belong to the NRPSI and to have satisfied that body's stringent requirements in regards to qualifications, experience and security clearance, the courts and other CJS customers could be reasonably assured that they were receiving a high quality and accountable service. Today, however, there are no such guarantees, and there is a mountain of evidence to show that Capita is sending its "linguists" (the company hesitates to describe them as "interpreters") to do work in court for which they are wholly unqualified.
I am sure you will have seen the recent highly critical reports from your parliamentary colleagues in the JSC and PAC, so it is unnecessary for me to quote from them here. What is evident, not only from these reports but also the experience of lawyers, judges, court staff, witnesses and defendants - not to mention the dedicated and highly qualified interpreters who have clearly been so undervalued - is that the so called Framework Agreement between the MOJ and ALS/Capita has been a disaster from the start and continues to undermine the fair and impartial delivery of justice in the United Kingdom. It is clear that the MOJ has sought to cut costs by handing over responsibility for interpreting and translation services to a company whose only way of being able to offer an apparently attractive proposition is by slashing remuneration and employing the services of cut-price, unqualified and incompetent "lingusits". The minister, Helen Grant, insists that savings are being made thanks to the contract but is rather reticent, not to say secretive, when it comes to revealing the extent of the extra costs incurred by the CJS due to the many failings of Capita to provide interpreters.
It is clear that Ms Grant and her predecessor at the MOJ were convinced that the NRPSI interpreters who had previously been doing CJS work were rewarded excessively for what they did. She and her colleagues obviously have no appreciation whatever of the levels of skill, education and stamina that are necessary in order to do the work of court interpreting effectively. They will argue that this is not so and that they appreciate the work that interpreters do. But all the evidence points to them holding the contrary view. If they truly considered court interpreters to be professionals deserving of a professional level of remuneration, they would not expect them to happily lend their services to an agency barely paying the minimum wage. I doubt Miss Grant and her associates at the MOJ would necessarily choose a dentist on the grounds that he was the cheapest. Indeed, anyone entrusting their dental care to a practitioner on such grounds might not be surprised to find that she was, months after treatment, left with a nagging toothache that simply refused to go away.
I would be very interested to know what your opinion of the current situation is. I am hoping for a reply that does not automatically cite the necessity in these difficult times for cuts, for it is an excuse that seems to be too readily used of late for the decimation of all kinds of services we not so long ago thought of as being sacrosanct and essential in a civilized society. We are all intelligent and realistic enough to understand that a government has to spend its resources sensibly. However, the idea that throwing money at agencies, receiving fifth rate services and pretending that this is somehow sound economic policy, should be vigorously challenged and I would like to think that you and some of your colleagues - on both sides of the house, perhaps - are in agreement on this point.
Thank you very much for your attention in this matter. I very much look forward to hearing your views.
John McCarthy MA, BA, DPSI (Law)
Member of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI)