New courts service lost in translation
A judge has slammed the Government’s new interpreting service after a case had to be adjourned twice when a translator did not turn up.
At Luton Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Martin Griffith explained how this was the third occasion in three weeks the Romanian defendant had been brought to court - and this week’s hearing was the only time an interpreter had turned up.
He was told by prosecutor Geoffrey Porter that Applied Language Solutions (ALS) linguist Florina Graham was, in fact, late that day as well - arriving at 2.30pm when she was required to be at court before 2pm.
ALS won a £60 million Ministry of Justice contract that begun on January 31 to provide linguistic services across the courts and is supposed to save taxpayers’ money.
Judge Griffith said: “There appears to be a contract that the Government has signed for the provision of translation services. I will be interested to know how much we have wasted by turning up three times.
“My understanding is that this hearing will be put on a website with an open invitation for any interpreter to do it. We need to get an answer as to why no one is turning up. Clearly something is wrong with the system.
“I think someone from ALS should come along and explain how it is that this system is supposed to work.
“The defendant has been here twice and there is nobody here who can tell him what is going on. He is told ‘I’m sorry you are going back to prison for another week’. Luckily once before a barrister was here who could speak Romanian. That was a Godsend but we can’t rely on that.”
Each time a court case is delayed an extra cost is incurred to the taxpayer, through the Judge, Magistrate, legal representatives having to go to court more, court staff having to contact ALS, costs for ALS at the next hearing and also there is additional expense in keeping defendants in custody for longer than may be necessary.
Alan Thompson, secretary of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters, said: “The MoJ claimed that this contract would produce savings of £18 million per year; eight weeks after nationwide roll-out this has been shown to be false, and this figure has been dwarfed by the increased costs of delays, adjournments and abandoned trials.
The award of the contract was a sad day for British Justice and a very expensive one for the British taxpayer.” An MOJ spokesman said: “There was an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.
“They have put measures in place to resolve these issues and we have already seen a marked improvement.” An ALS spokeswoman added: “The MoJ awarded the contract to fundamentally address the weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs of the previous service.
"Inevitably there will be a period of transition as embedded, but inefficient, working practices are changed with the aim of achieving higher quality and more cost effective services.”
In January, ALS linguist Mrs Graham hit the headlines when she won £250 in damages at the High Court when Thames Valley Police admitted they had carried out an unlawful search of her home in 2008 after she was arrested for harassment.
Mrs Graham was given a ‘first harassment warning’ in 2009 after sending a police inspector at West Mercia Police a series of suggestive messages in 2008.
She was removed from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters as a result.