Translation work for foreign crime suspects costs UK £450,000 a week
Government officials have spent £450,000 a week on language experts to provide translation services to foreign-speaking criminals and people caught up in the UK’s legal system.
Ministry of Justice officials spent £23.4 million between April 2019 and March 2020 for a total of 143 different dialects, including £20,000 on Oromo and £1,000 on Bravanese.
Most of the money is spent providing expert assistance to foreign-speaking crime suspects, who need legal papers translated and then require an interpreter for their trial proceedings.
This year's bill for translating legal cases increased eight per cent on the figure of £21.6 million for the previous 12 months between April 2018 and March 2019.
Much of the spending was on Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian speakers. There were also big spends on Bengali, Punjabi and Urdu speakers.
The figures were released in response to a Freedom of Information request. It is not clear if the number of crime suspects requiring the translation service has increased, or the cost of the services has increased.
Some costs covered lesser spoken languages, including a £418 spend on providing interpreters for somebody who spoke Cebuano, a language spoken by people from parts of the southern Philippines. It is the major language spoken in the Philippines’ Visayan Islands and with around 16 million native speakers.
The service, paid for by the Ministry of Justice, also provided translation and interpretation for a total of three different versions of creole, at a cost of £23,000.
The services provided include face to face interpreting, telephone interpreting and written translation and transcription.
A total of £1,000 was spent on Bravanese, a language spoken in Somalia, which is also called Chimwiini or Chimbalazi and is spoken by the Bravanese people, the predominant inhabitants of the capital of the South West state of Somalia – Barawa.
Oromo speakers received £20,000 of funding, which is spoken in parts of Ethiopia. Oromo is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, numbering about 37 million and representing 34.5 per cent of the population.
There was just over £42,000 spent on providing interpreters for Welsh speakers and £2,500 on Edo, which is a regional dialect in Nigeria and was spoken by about 1.6m people in 2015 according to Ethnologue – an annual publication that provides statistics on living languages across the world.
The lowest spend was just £2 for Zulu speakers, followed by £40 for Swedish speakers. Just £53.90 was spent on Kinyamulenge speakers, a language spoken by the Banyamulenge who are a Tutsi ethnic minority in the Democratic Republic of Congo and who originally come from Rwanda.
Translation services for Arabic speakers cost the MoJ £1.26m, the fifth highest spend.
James Roberts, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Taxpayers will be lost for words to hear the bill for translations has once again gone up.
"There will always be some cases where a translator is needed to give everyone a fair shot at justice, but those who live in Britain should learn to speak English so that they are not a continuing burden on taxpayers."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Foreign criminals could not be convicted without interpreters but we always seek best value for the taxpayer."