"Shambolic" decision to outsource court interpreters slammed
Lawyers described an interpreting service as "appalling" as MPs branded a Government department as "shambolic" over its handling of a contract for court language services.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ignored warnings the quality of services would be sacrificed when it outsourced the contract for providing court interpreters, the Justice Committee said.
The contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), now known as Capita Translation and Interpreting after it was taken over, led to court proceedings being held up and even cases collapsing after it launched early last year.
At Caernarfon Magistrates Court one case had to be adjourned four times because an interpreter failed to turn up.
Solicitor Jim Connod said: "The case involved an eastern European defendant who could not speak English. After the fourth occasion the judge ordered the company to attend court to explain the delay."
On Monday a case was held up until an Italian speaking interpreter arrived from Manchester.
On another occasion a Lithuanian man had to spend an additional night in custody when no interpreter arrived.
Lawyers said there have been difficulties obtaining translators for Chinese and Vietnamese defendants and witnesses.
A lack of registered interpreters, resulting in poor quality of services and a struggle to meet demand, was among the problems faced by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the committee said.
In one incident, an unqualified man arrived at a murder trial to stand in as an interpreter for his wife.
Other issues raised included interpreters being asked to travel long distances to attend court, often from the other side of the country, poor levels of pay, a lack of qualifications and mistranslation.
The committee was told one interpreter mistranslated a defendant’s statement, which ultimately gave the jury the impression their evidence was not credible.
The MoJ did not have a sufficient understanding of the complexities of court interpreting work before it decided to put the services out to tender, the committee said.
Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith said of the MoJ’s conduct: "It did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts."
Justice Minister Helen Grant said while there had been "significant" issues at the start of the contract, the department had seen dramatic improvements after taking "swift and robust action".
During the it emerged the HMCTS instructed staff not to participate in the committee’s online consultation.
The committee said the action may have constituted a contempt of the House of Commons, but as it received sufficient evidence from other sources to make a reliable judgement it will not take further action.