UK/Suffolk: Lack of interpreters brings court ‘chaos’

A GOVERNMENT report has shed light on the “total chaos” in courts caused by interpreters provided by a private firm failing to attend.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, has led a new report into Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) deal with Applied Language Solutions (ALS).

Mrs Hodge says that when the Ministry of Justice set out to establish a new centralised system for supplying interpreters to the justice system, “almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.

“The MoJ awarded the contract to a company, ALS, that was clearly incapable of delivering,” she said. “The MoJ had been warned that ALS was too small to shoulder a contract worth more than �1million, but went ahead and handed them an annual �42m contract covering the whole country.

“The MoJ did not understand its own basic requirements, such as how many interpreters it needed or in what languages.

“Capita took over ALS in late 2011. They had no hope of recruiting enough qualified interpreters in time to start the service. The MoJ needed access to 1,200 interpreters when the contract went live; the company had only 280 properly-assessed interpreters willing to work for it.

“Matters became even worse when the MoJ decided that the new service would go live nationally in one go. Many of the ‘interpreters’ it thought were available had simply registered an interest on the company’s website and had been subject to no official checks that they had the required skills and experience. Indeed, we heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog.

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“As a result, the company was able to meet only 58% of bookings against a target of 98%. The result was total chaos.”

Solicitors in Suffolk have been vocal in their criticism of the new system.

Neil Saunders, of Saunders, Goodin and Riddleston in Queen Street, Ipswich, said: “The service has been a bit patchy, to say the least; unreliable and on occasion one has wondered about the standard of the interpreters and the consequent cost to the judicial system and the public purse of having sub-standard interpreters in court by way of either lengthening the court process or, indeed, in the worst-case scenario of there being a miscarriage of justice.”

Mr Saunders said he still wonders about the quality of some of the interpreters sent to court and added there are cases when some continue to not turn up.

Dino Barricella, of Barricella, Hughes and Marchant in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, has also been one of the critics of the system in the past.

Like others he has put up with the non-appearance of interpreters and has even had to resort to Google translate in order to communicate with clients in court.

Mr Barricella said: “It has got better, but it is the quality of people you get that concerns me. I think we were spoilt before the new system and didn’t really appreciate what a good service we had. While interpreters are turning up now, they clearly don’t know much about the court procedure.”

On one occasion at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court, a Vietnamese interpreter made a 450-mile round trip from Newcastle for an eight-minute court hearing.

Capita Translation and Interpreting has said it is now fulfilling 95% of bookings, and while there had been “challenges” with the system, it was determined to get the service running at full efficiency.

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