Misconceptions about previous NRPSI system of booking court interpreters
Dear Ms Featherstone
Thank you for your reply.
I am afraid, though, that I cannot agree with your analysis of the previous arrangements for the booking and provision of interpreters. The NRPSI list provided a guarantee of quality because no interpreter could be included on the list if they were not properly qualified and had a certain level of experience. Under the new system those safeguards have quite disappeared and that is why we are now seeing many so-called interpreters wreaking havoc in courts because they lack the requisite qualifications and are not up to the job. There seems to be a very dangerous misconception amongst senior MOJ staff and some politicians that the work of an interpreter is relatively simple and not particularly skilled, that anyone with half a grasp of more than one language could probably do it after a day or two's induction, and that all this time interpreters have been grossly overpaid and somehow taking advantage of the system. It is very disappointing indeed to hear you apparently echoing these sentiments.
I am unclear about what you mean when you say the previous system was slow and open to abuse. The NRPSI is comprised of some 2300 interpreters in many different languages. If, for example, at 3pm a court listing officer required a Spanish interpreter for a hearing on the following day she would have at her disposable some 6 pages of names that she could call upon, and it would be a very unusual day when none of these interpreters was available. Now of course the same list officer just makes a call to the agency that may or may not be able to provide someone, who may or may not have a qualification, who may or may not have a clue about interpreting and the court environment. Very often it seems the courts automatically book interpreters directly when there is a short-notice requirement because they know from experience that the agency will not be able to help them. This, remember, is an agency that bragged that they were going to cut the previous waste and waiting times and provide interpreters much more quickly and efficiently. However, this is, despite the desperate back covering claims made by MOJ officials, the minister Helen Grant and ALS/Capita people at the public inquiries, demonstrably untrue.
Most of the interpreters working under the previous system were conscientious, punctual, smart and committed people who would make every effort to fill a request, often at considerable personal inconvenience. Your assertion that interpreters were abusing the system (how, by expecting reasonable remuneration for a gruelling day's work?) is frankly insulting. Having worked in the court system for the past dozen years or so, and having taken the trouble to acquire two post-graduate qualifications in order to do so, I feel that I am qualified and entitled to make this claim.
If you will forgive my saying so, you seem as blinded by the promises of savings as the MOJ dupes and certain politicians who have been determined to push this disastrous change through and then defend it when it has miserably (though quite predictably) failed. Who knows, perhaps this contract will eventually save a little money - just as a factory owner will save on production costs if he cuts his workers' wages by 80% overnight - but do not expect in addition to have a service which is anything more than threadbare and merely paying lip service to the legal requirement to provide a (proper) interpreter.
My thanks again for your attention in this matter.
From: Lynne Featherstone
Dear Mr McCarthy,
Thank you for your emails on 13th and 20th November with regard to ALS. Thus far I have not received a response from Helen Grant MP. Ordinarily I would suggest a timeframe of 3-4 weeks to expect a reply, and so if you have still not heard back by then please do let me know and I will chase this up.
Public organisations, private companies and charities all play important roles in the provision of services to the UK. With regard to court interpreters, the previous system was slow, open to abuse, and suffered from administrative difficulties.
Clearly, however, the new contract with ALS did not start as we intended, and several Justice Ministers have commented to that effect. That being said, the contract is for five years and we therefore intend to work with ALS to improve services for the benefit of the courts and the taxpayer.
Thank you for raising this issue and please do not hesitate to get in touch again if you require further assistance on this or any other matter in the future.
Lynne Featherstone MP
Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green