The Times: ‘Shambolic’ outsourcing of court interpreters
Whitehall officials pushed ahead with a “shambolic” outsourcing of court interpreting services that led to delays in trials and lower standards, MPs said yesterday.
In a damning report, the Ministry of Justice is castigated for failing to heed repeated warnings about the new centralised service, which has been widely criticised.
It also condemns the Ministry for instructing officials not to cooperate with an online consultation by the MPs, members of the Commons Justice Committee.
That obstruction amounts to a contempt of Parliament which MPs say they “deplore”, adding: “there should be no repetition of them in future.”
Sir Alan Beith MP, chairman of the Justice Committee, said: “The Ministry of Justice’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic.
“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.”
Interpreters immediately called for the outsourcing contract to be scrapped.
Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman, Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI), one of ten organisations that make up Professional Interpreters for Justice, says: “The Framework Agreement and the contract with Capita do not work and never will.
“The Ministry of Justice was determined to push this through in the face of overwhelming evidence that it would reduce the quality of language services. Even now the Minister is attempting to get the interpreting community on board, but we insist this failed delivery model must be abandoned.”
He added: “The Ministry of Justice showed contempt to the interpreting community, contempt for their own court officials by preventing them from taking part in the Justice Committee’s online consultation and contempt for the previous excellent reputation of British justice, which is now in tatters.”
The Justice Committee report — which comes after an equally strong report from the Public Accounts Committee — says that the MoJ did not have a sufficient understanding of the complexities of court interpreting work.
In 2011 the MoJ contracted with a company, then Allied Language Solutions, to provide a centralised court interpreting service.
Previously courts dealt directly with professional interpreters, hiring them according to need.
But despite concerns that quality standards could be diminished by the proposed imposition of a tiered system to enable a wider pool of interpreters, and by the introduction of lower levels of pay, the ministry pushed ahead, MPs say.
Sir Alan Beith MP added: “The evidence shows that Capita-ALS failed to deliver on many aspects of the Agreement and did not implement appropriate safeguards to ensure that the interpreters it provided were of sufficient standard.”
Professional interpreters have largely boycotted the new arrangements which contributed to the difficulties but not entirely explaining them according to the report, it says.
The Committee has also condemned the actions taken by MoJ which had the effect of hampering the inquiry.
HMCTS issued an edict to its staff instructing them not to participate in the Committee’s online consultation, established to invite direct observations from frontline staff of the performance of ALS.
MPs say that they consider this may have constituted a contempt of the House, but as it received sufficient evidence from other sources to make a reliable judgement, it has not asked the House to take further action on this matter.
Sir Alan Beith MP said: “We received an abundance of evidence from other sources about the quality of court interpreting services, so we are confident in the conclusions we have reached, but we deplore the Ministry’s ill-advised actions and there should be no repetition of them in the future.”
An MoJ spokesman said: “There were significant issues at the start of the contract in early 2012 but we took swift and robust action and have seen dramatic improvements, as the Justice Select Committee highlights.
“The vast majority of interpreter bookings are now being completed and complaints have fallen considerably. The changes we have made have led to major savings for taxpayers, totalling £15m in the first year, and we continue to monitor the contract on a daily basis and demand continuing progress.”