Solicitors bypass ALS by booking their own professional interpreters
I attended a London Crown Court today to observe a serious case that required an interpreter. The trial was already part-heard when I arrived. From a conversation with some of the parties involved it transpired that an interpreter was required for the defendant and some of the defence witnesses, but the defence team chose to use their own professional interpreter rather than rely on the one supplied by ALS. The ALS linguist was promptly dismissed by the court and the interpreter arranged by the solicitors was used for the trial.
I have been asked by solicitors to attend court in a very similar way and I know from colleagues that solicitors are increasingly relying on professionals booked by them. It is quite understandable - with ALS you cannot be sure that you will have an interpreter; if you do, it is likely to be the wrong language and if the language is right, then the quality of interpreting would be so abysmal the court may well end up adjourning the hearing. If you bypass them and book your own RPSI interpreter, at least you know where you stand and you have one less thing to worry about. However, this is just a short term solution to the problem because it shifts the expense to a different budget: instead of the court paying for the interpreter, the service would be paid through Legal Aid; ultimately the expense would come out of the same pot of taxpayers' money but to the MoJ it would look like a saving. Sometimes it leads to a double payment - to ALS and to the defence interpreter booked directly by the solicitors, but there would be no way of keeping a record of such an expense.
I completely sympathise with solicitors and barristers who want a professional interpreter. In the long run, however, there is only one solution to the problem: the MoJ Framework Agreement has to go. It is not working, it is expensive and it may lead to miscarriages of justice.