Open letter sent to Ken Clarke last week
Association of Police & Court Interpreters (APCI)
16 Pepper Street, Glengall Bridge, London, E14 9RP
Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI)
Wellington House East Road Cambridge CB1 1BH
27th March 2012
The Rt Hon the Lord Chancellor
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Dear Lord Chancellor,
Interpreting within the Criminal Justice System
Further to your letter of 10th January 2012 to the Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP, we would like to respond to various points made within this.
Firstly, you state that a competitive dialogue to explore how language services might be provided more efficiently was conducted amongst officials. We strongly dispute this claim and do not believe that any such competitive dialogue took place. This was a ‘nonsultation’ which was in fact flawed in a number of ways:
- the Cambridgeshire and Wales models for the provision of public service interpreting (where year on year savings of 40% have been made) were not considered;
- the Ministry did not publish any considerations on the alternative systems put forward in writing to MoJ officials, by a number of professional interpreters’ associations, from mid 2010;
- in fact, no consultation paper was published at all.
The Framework Agreement (FWA) may not constitute a monopoly within the UK market for language services as a whole but it is a clear attempt to create a monopoly within the Justice sector. Applied Language Solutions’ (ALS) own website states that if interpreters want to continue working within the Justice sector, they ‘must’ join them.
The abysmal administration of the FWA has already resulted in lower quality standards which we firmly believe to be contrary to the spirit of the European Union Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, as well as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
We have evidence of defendants undergoing sentencing without any knowledge of the charge as well as numerous defendants being remanded in custody for charges that they would have otherwise received bail for, at great cost to the taxpayer. The inability of the Contractor to provide properly qualified interpreters has also been evidenced on over 150 occasions at Magistrates’ and Crown Courts nationwide. We have reports of ALS interpreters themselves admitting that they have not undergone the required assessment or vetting and have no experience of the legal system whatsoever. The system is so shambolic that a rabbit, a cat and several goldfish have been able to register with ALS. The rabbit “Jajo” has also received several emails from ALS offering assignments.
Contrary to your claims, the FWA will not increase the overall supply of interpreters to the Justice sector but will continue to have the opposite effect – 90% of the 1,206 professional interpreters who completed our survey, conducted by independent consultancy Involvis, stated that they have not registered with ALS and do not intend to. It should be noted that 1,206 amounts to 51% of interpreters listed on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, NRPSI.
Furthermore, the FWA may well be clear about the quality standards expected (including qualifications, experience and vetting) but the Contractor is simply not abiding by these standards. Again, we have documented evidence of persons being sent to interpret in courts without having undergone the required assessment, without having the required level of assessment (Tier 3 being sent to Tier 1 assignments), without having any relevant qualifications and without having anywhere near the 100 hours of prior legal work experience required. A recent BBC London report (21.03.12) has highlighted the fact that ALS have taken the details of freelance interpreters and added them to their ‘register’ without their consent and with no regard for the fact that all interpreters must have undergone the required assessment.
We are also aware of a systematic failure by the Contractor to vet its linguists or verify the existence of Criminal Records Bureau checks. Even more concerning is the evidence that we have acquired regarding the attempted recruitment (by ALS) of language students from both Birmingham University and South Thames College, who have been offered assignments by the Contractor without undergoing any of the above.
In our survey, 93.5% of respondents who underwent the ALS assessment reported wholly negative experiences and stated that the assessment itself was ‘flawed’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘humiliating’ and did not reflect real life court scenarios. The majority will not continue working with ALS.
We would also call into question your claims that interpreting in this sector is costing in the region of £60 million per year; where is your evidence of this expenditure? Interpreter organisations submitted a written request for this information in September, 2010. No reply was ever received. As far as the desired £18 million savings are concerned, we estimate that this inherently flawed Framework Agreement is currently costing approximately £3 million a week in Magistrates’ Courts alone.
How long is the Ministry of Justice willing to accept these escalating costs? The current situation will only get worse as professional interpreters refuse to compromise their commitment to Justice, resulting in many more no-shows or potential miscarriages of justice – the only ‘improvement’ that your Contractor appears able to provide is to send students and other wholly unqualified persons to ‘interpret’ in court.
We are appealing to the Ministry of Justice to terminate the contract with ALS with immediate effect and set aside the FWA in order for a genuine consultation to take place with stakeholders and an effective system to be put in place. In Cambridgeshire Constabulary and in constabularies in Wales, through dialogue and collaboration, year on year savings of 40% have been secured. This is what we promise to help the MoJ attain.
Both the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI) and the Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI), along with all other interpreters’ associations, are willing and waiting to commence talks.
Geoffrey Buckingham Guillermo A. Makin
Chairman, APCI Chairman, SPSI