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Ministry of Justice Translating and Interpreting Contract, Update October 2012

We said this was not going to go away and it hasn’t. It’s now over 8 months since this contract to provide interpreters and translators to courts throughout the UK was controversially awarded to Applied Language Solutions, (ALS, and now Capita Translations and Interpreting) and still significant problems remain. The minimum target of meeting 98% of booking requests is still not being met and the figure currently stands at 95% and there is huge unrest in the court interpreting community.

Let’s recap on how the current position has come about. When ALS were awarded the £300M contract, they set about reducing existing rates with court interpreters who had years of experience. Many refused to negotiate and ALS was boycotted by large numbers of interpreters. ALS went on an extensive recruiting drive amid allegations that some of the new interpreting staff were inexperienced and in some cases even lacked the necessary criminal background checks. There was also one instance where a trial was halted because the interpreter mis-translated a crucial piece of evidence.  Many of the highly-qualified and experienced court interpreters have drifted away from the profession in protest at slashed pay rates and the perceived decline in the standard of court interpreting. A large number of interpreters continue to boycott ALS and now Capita.

Both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Justice Select Committee (JC) are looking into the way in which the contract was awarded and how it is being operated following widespread complaints about cancelled court cases and the quality of service.

On 24th October a parliamentary committee, the Justice Select Committee, heard evidence from a number of people suggesting continuing poor performance.

The chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, Richard Atkinson, said arrangements for providing court interpreters had got “worse not better” since the contract with Applied Language Solutions, now Capita Translating and Interpreting, began in February. He quoted one example from Leicester Crown Court where a defendant with no previous convictions was remanded in custody three times because the court was unable to deal with bail without an Albanian interpreter.

Conservative committee member Robert Buckland said under the new contract, there were 182 ineffective trials in the first quarter of the year, and the trend is worsening.

Madeleine Lee, director of the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, suggested that, in cases where there is no locally based interpreter available, Capita bosses may be actively choosing to save money by paying the penalty fee for missing a session rather than paying large rail fares.

Judge Francis Sheridan presided recently over two cases where court costs, including transport and escort costs, were wasted because of the unavailability of court interpreters. At Amersham court he made wasted court orders on both cases. He also went on record as saying that Capita should “not retain a contract which is too difficult for them” and the government should look at whether the contract was “even remotely viable”. Strong stuff.

It will be very interesting to see how things develop and no doubt we will have another update soon.

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