Privatisation of court interpreting 'had problems', admits Justice Minister
The Justice Minister Crispin Blunt has admitted there had been problems with the introduction of a private contract for court interpreters as translators prepare to stage a protest today.
The decision to award Applied Language Solutions (ALS) the contract for court interpreting was met with criticism from professional bodies, with many qualified interpreters refusing to sign up over a drop in pay and conditions.
Earlier this month, it was reported that a shortage of interpreters had meant foreign suspects had walked free because police were unable to get translators.
Interpreters were expected to demonstrate against the new contract outside the House of Commons this morning followed by a protest outside the Ministry of Justice.
Mr Blunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that ALS was "the best" company to apply for the contract and had since been taken over by professional services firm Capita and so had "substantial resources behind them to make sure this works".
"There have been problems with the start of the new contract, but we are replacing a system that was administratively decrepit frankly, and very expensive and very open to abuse, and so I'm satisfied that we are now rapidly improving the delivery of the new arrangements and we will get over this bedding-in period," he said.
"Obviously our contract is with ALS, ALS are then going to have to find the right market rate for supply and demand for interpreters to make the system work satisfactorily. We hold them to their contracted price with us," he said.
"I'm completely satisfied that the system was so bad before that they will actually make a proper, normal profit on this service and we will get to a place where interpreters are being much more efficiently administered, they will have much more work to do, the use of their time will be significantly improved and this will be better for interpreters and the whole of the justice system."
David Evans, chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Magistrates' Association, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I've heard words like 'disaster' and 'chaos' used and I don't think they are too strong at the moment.
"The contract's been up and running now since February 1 – surely that's time for a large company to get its act together."