Ipswich: It’s a farce! Fed-up defence solicitors blast court interpreter system after translator has to travel from NEWCASTLE to Ipswich for hearing

IPSWICH: Furious solicitors today branded a new court case interpreter system as farcical after a translator made a 564-mile round trip for an eight-minute court hearing.

The Vietnamese interpreter had to get up at around 3am to catch a train from Newcastle to Peterborough, before changing trains to Ipswich, in order to be at the town’s South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court by 10am.

The journey to Suffolk took four-and-a-half hours and is said to typify what is claimed to be a haphazard and chaotic system.

Defence solicitors at the Ipswich court have labelled the situation as a “farce”, a “disaster” and a “tragedy”, claiming some clients languish in jail due to interpreters failing to turn up for potential bail hearings.

The lawyers said they and court staff have even had to resort to using the internet web service Google Translate to be able to communicate with their clients. In some cases it has been claimed friends of the defendants have had to stand up in court to help explain what is going on to the defendant.

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Solicitors and clerks say they are growing increasing frustrated over the issue of interpreters allegedly failing to attend court or being late because they have travelled from many miles away.

The situation said to have arisen after the government awarded the interpreter contract to Applied Language Solutions, which took over on January 30. A vast majority of translators from Suffolk are believed to have refused to work for the company as they say it has slashed their fees.

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In the case of the interpreter from Newcastle, defendant Phuong Van Duong, who is accused of the production of cannabis, his solicitor says he had not been able to understand what was happening in court on four previous occasions as no translator had turned up.

His solicitor, Neil Saunders, said:

“Farcical is not the right word. It’s actually a tragedy.

“Whilst justice must be blind, it should not be mute. People are not being represented.”

The hearing began at 10.43am and finished at 10.51am, leaving the interpreter to face the long return trip home.

A Lithuanian interpreter was also at court on the same day.

She had travelled from London to help two alleged Ipswich shoplifters.

The third case requiring a translator that day involved a Chinese woman living in Bramford, who was accused of actual bodily harm.

No interpreter was able to be at the court, so her solicitor Dino Barricella told officials he had to resort to getting his secretary to use Google Translate to explain what the hearing was about.

Mr Barricella said: “It’s a complete farce. People will remain in custody, because we as solicitors can not take instructions and therefore are not able to put forward bail applications.”

Andrew Cleal, of Oslers in Stowmarket, added: “It makes me very angry to see everybody – solicitors and court staff – having to work exceptionally hard to deal with what I believe is a Ministry of Justice cock-up. The whole thing is a disaster.”

LONDON: The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) today accepted there had been problems with court interpreter system, but claimed the situation has improved recently.

A spokeswoman said: “There were an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.

“They have put measures in place to resolve these issues and we have already seen a marked improvement.

“The vast majority of appointments are now being met, but we are continuing to push for performance to be brought to the required level and are monitoring the system on a daily basis.

“The interpretation and translation framework with Applied Languages Solutions was agreed last year following consultation and introduced in courts, tribunals and prisons across England and Wales on January 30, following a successful pilot in the North-west region.”

OLDHAM: A spokeswoman for Applied Language Solutions in Oldham, the firm with the interpreters’ contract said: “The MoJ awarded the contract to fundamentally address the weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs of the previous service.

“Inevitably there will be a period of transition as embedded, but inefficient, working practices are changed with the aim of achieving higher quality and more cost effective services. The contract began less than two months ago, we are fulfilling the vast majority of bookings (nearly 3,000 a week) and have 2,000 experienced and qualified linguists actively working within the system. More interpreters are signing up daily. Assigning qualified and experienced linguists to assignments and insisting on continuous professional development, while reducing operational inefficiencies, remains our focus.

“We are determined to get the service running at a level that meets the MoJ’s requirements, provides transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supports the police and court service.

“Official feedback from the courts suggest that there are only a very small number of cases where interpreters do not turn up, eg because of sickness or travel problems. This problem, of course, was at least equally likely under the old system.”

n What to you think? E-mail starletters@ipswichstar.co.uk or write to Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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