MoJ shambles: what is it really about? Does anyone know?
This is my last contribution in this mini-series on the rationale of change. As I was trying to argue in the previous two blog posts, the rationale for change has nothing to do with interpreters, but everything to do with the Ministry of Justice and the way they organise the service. After all, interpreters when at work are officers of the court and ultimately it is the justice sector (and the British taxpayer) that picks up a tab when something goes wrong even if Capita is penalised for non-fulfilment. The penalties are only financial but who is going to pay for the reputational damage?
That is why outsourcing – or privatisation – whatever we call what the MoJ did – will never solve the underlying problems. What is needed is proper investment of resources – both financial and human – by the MoJ to analyse the issues and prepare a solution with the full engagement of interpreters. Asking those who might have experience of a successful delivery of service in other sectors and other countries is essential.
Interpreters’ pay has nothing to do with it – after all, the LSC and the NA rates are much higher than Capita’s rates and the MoJ is happy to pay them. If they were indexed in line with inflation and referenced to the fees of other experts used by the CJS, interpreters would be happy as well and the two parties could then get down to finding the best way forward - for example, how to streamline the administration of the system.
Is there anyone out there who disagrees with the above?
It has often been argued that interpreters are fragmented but everytime this is stated we must ask ourselves who says it and in whose interest? From my experience it looks like interpreters have always been united in what we wanted: recognition of our work, higher status, decent working conditions and fair pay. That is why interpreters – against all the odds – have been so successful so far in this campaign under the Unite umbrella.
One of the aims of the campaign is the protection of the title "Legal Interpreter". We all agree on that, don’t we?
Now, what does it mean ‘protection of the title’? What are the constituent elements of such a status (apart from the obvious – i.e. the statute or some regulation or the National Agreement as we have had before which would state that the title ‘legal interpreter’ is protected)? For the sake of this short post I would suggest three:
- a qualification recognised and approved of both by interpreters and the MoJ
- membership of a professional body
- respect of service users
3. Let’s start from the last one: respect. Before we get statutory protection we need to establish a high enough status for our profession first. How to obtain a higher status? Let’s benchmark. Which professions are valued and admired? How have they achieved this? Are there any professionals in the language sector whose skills are highly praised by service users and rewarded accordingly?
Secondly, if we do not respect ourselves and our colleagues, no-one else will.
2. Membership of a professional body, which may or may not include a regulatory function. The profession of a legal interpreter is still developing and cannot possibly be compared with lawyers and doctors whose professional associations are well established and have matured over the years. That is why it is so, so wrong to start our self-organisation by setting up a regulator only. It is discipline before guidance while the order should be the other way round – first interpreters organise themselves, promote best practice, support each other, attend CPD (e.g. participate in online discussion groups), build up camaraderie until they agree what it really is that makes someone an interpreter. Once this is clear to everyone, discipline can kick in and we can have regulation just like doctors and lawyers. Let's not forget that SRA is a very young institution while the Law Society has a much longer history.
We already have one ready-made body that unites all 2000+ legal interpreters – the NRPSI. We pay very high fees to be registered with them – and when I say high – I mean the proportion of the fees to our income. Under Capita’s fees it would take us 10 hours (i.e. 2 full days + if we include travel) to pay for the registration – under the NA fees it would be one full day. It really should be run in the interests of those who pay for it. If we want a body that is run pro publico bono, then we need at least the co-operation (if not the investment) of the MoJ. Until we get this, the NRPSI should be a body representing those who pay for it.
The idea was originally floated to make the NRPSI a two-pronged body with a regulatory arm and a professional association arm to which we would all pay and the organisation would later allocate money to its two arms so that we are properly represented. This idea has sadly not been implemented fully - maybe it was already too late. ALS submitted its final bid in February 2011 having obtained expert advice, and the NRPSI reform was finalised in April 2011.
We have made a start with the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting. We now need to take it one level up – having learnt the lessons of how DPSI has worked for the last 10 years or so. The work is immense and outside the scope of this article – but one thing is certain: the qualification needs to be developed further jointly by interpreters, service users and academics/teachers with all three groups having an equal input.
To conclude, watching the PAC hearing has been very instructive and that included not only listening to questions and answers but also observing the public gallery. Let's hope that this time interpreters will not be sidelined.