The complaints issue and the latest Statistical Report
(a) The MoJ’s attitude is ‘Let’s blame Capita for the increase in non-fulfilment and complaints. It’s their fault. They should not have reduced the mileage rate from 40p to 20p’. In fact, all Capita did was revert to the original terms and conditions agreed with the MoJ. This was hardly surprising given they are paid nothing by the MoJ for covering interpreter travel costs. This goes back to ALS’s sales-talk. Wheeldon had somehow convinced the MoJ that these expenses would be almost non-existent, thanks to the anticipated increase in the availability of local interpreters. The ‘logic’ was that Newcastle interpreters would be happy with £16 for attending a job in Sunderland with no travel expenses. No one foresaw the Newcastle interpreters choosing jobs in Ipswich off the portal. Honestly, those interpreters. Give them an inch and they take 250 miles. It reminds me of that great ‘mentoring’ debacle of over 10 years ago. It was thought experienced interpreters would be happy to take apprentice interpreters under their wing. By demonstrating best practice, by providing one-to-one guidance, by giving their time and effort for free, experienced interpreters - it was hoped - would cut their own throats by empowering the young to step into their shoes. Good idea in theory. Rather like hydrogen-filled airships.
(b) There seems to be no complaints category entitled ‘interpreters leaving before the conclusion of the case’. How odd, given that this is a daily occurrence in every court in the land. I saw a distressed Lithuanian lady at Huntingdon Magistrates’ Court last Monday. She had been left in the lurch because her interpreter ‘had had to go’. In these instances, the court either muddles through or rebooks direct. The truth is the Chief Statistician’s 90% fulfilment rate is dependent upon the rampant incidence of partial-fulfilment of bookings. The ‘Interpreter left Early’ syndrome stems from two sources: pressure from above on Capita to produce positive fulfilment statistics; pressure from below on Capita in the shape of interpreters who over-commit themselves in their desperation to stretch their earnings potential. The result is that every two ‘fulfilments’ recorded by the same interpreter in a single day probably conceals at least one, possibly two, ‘partial-fulfilments’, as well as 2 potential grounds for complaint (‘interpreter left early’ / ‘interpreter was late to second booking’).
(c) As ever with this ongoing charade, Peter Beeke is our most reliable source of background court information, this time on the complaints procedure: ‘My bench members and the Court Clerks complain to HMCTS as and when a problem occurs. These are logged on the spreadsheet that contains the detail of performance and, as I understand it, they are forwarded to Ministry of Justice staff in London. What happens after that is a mystery to me and the Court Clerks. We rarely get feedback on individual cases and when it is provided it usually goes along the lines that “there was no resource available”. Since the introduction of the gagging order, which went out before the JSC hearing, I imagine HMCTS staff have been feeling more and more cowed and less and less likely to register complaints. Anyway, the ‘Interpreter Non-Fulfilment And Non-Terpreter Is Leaving Early’ syndrome (INFANTILE) is so pervasive that 'complaint-making fatigue' must have set in months ago, especially if feedback is non-existent or an insult to the intelligence.
(d) The report claims ‘A more advanced scheme has been introduced that can classify complaints as founded, unfounded or duplicates (complaints submitted twice in error), and only founded complaints are reported to the Ministry of Justice’. Does that mean HMCTS sift out ‘unfounded’ complaints before forwarding them to the MoJ (see on Peter Beeke above)? Or do complaints now go to Capita in the first instance? What are the criteria by which a complaint is rejected? Given that Court Clerks are exhausted by chasing their tail in search of interpreters, and given the MoJ’s track record for discouraging dissent from HMCTS staff, it seems unlikely that such complaints as are received will be in any way ‘unfounded’. The reverse is much more likely. Poor performance is surely under-reported. In any case the report tacitly admits that unfounded complaints were uncommon when it refers to the earlier ‘pre-sifting’ system (‘this bulletin reports all complaints, which will include a small number of unfounded or duplicate complaints from the earlier classification scheme’). Finally, complaints are probably sent in duplicate because the MoJ doesn’t acknowledge the first one. Remember how often we had to resubmit claim forms?