Lost in privatisation: Capita, court interpreting services and fair trial rights
A translator and human rights activist analyses the ongoing issues thrown up by the privatisation of court interpreting services by the Ministry of Justice.
Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, arguably one of the most important legal documents in the world, guaranteeing the right to a fair trial. That right is also ensured under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the minimum right of a defendant ‘to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him’ and ‘to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.’ The right to interpretation also applies to complainants. These fair trial rights are now under threat in various ways in modern Britain, particularly through plans to privatise legal aid services and the privatisation of court interpreting services, the privatisation framework agreement for which became operational on 30 January 2012.
The framework agreement replaced a system governed by a National Agreement whereby interpreters, who are largely self-employed and work independently, are selected from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), the UK’s independent voluntary regulator for the interpreting profession (formed in 1994). This system, introduced following a number of miscarriages of justice related to a failure to appreciate the language needs of criminal justice system users, functioned adequately until the beginning of this decade. But in August 2011, following a public procurement procedure, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) signed a five-year, £90 million contract with a small private language service provider called Applied Language Services (ALS). Before the contract went live six months later, ALS was acquired by Capita, a private company notorious for its large stake in the public sector and its ability to both secure and mismanage public contracts. Both the MoJ and ALS deny that they knew at the time of signing the contract of the imminent acquisition of ALS by Capita.
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