Thursday, 15 December 2011

“Interpreter outsourcing by the UK Ministry of Justice, the full story as published on Interpreting the World”

You might have heard about the recent developments on the public service interpreting market in the UK. There is also troubling news coming from other countries about deteriorating professional standards.

In Britain, there is a high demand for interpreting in hospitals, courts and police stations, immigration offices, local community and social welfare centres, widely known as “public service interpreting”. An important part of “public service interpreting” is interpreting in the justice sector.

In an attempt to cut costs, the UK’s Ministry of Justice decided in July 2011 to outsource all translation and interpretation services in the justice sector to one commercial supplier, an agency called Applied Language Solutions (ALS), with awarded value of GBP 300 million. The Framework Agreement signed with ALS in August 2011 can be found here:
The Ministry of Justice is responsible for courts, tribunals, prison and probation, an important part of the criminal justice system in the UK. Crime Prosecution Service, or CPS, responsible for booking interpreters for witnesses, has not made any decision regarding outsourcing yet. Solicitors can still book interpreters directly for their consultations under the Legal Aid scheme.

Before ALS, courts mostly booked interpreters directly using the national register of public service interpreters (and its sign language equivalent). The decision by MoJ to sign the contract with ALS, effectively dispenses with the requirement for the registration and has proved very controversial.

Many interpreters fear that quality, professional standards and terms & conditions will suffer as a result and many professional interpreters have had to consider alternative careers due to the cuts in rates for assignments.
Working conditions for public service interpreters in the UK were difficult enough before ALS (e.g. payment by the hour, one interpreter working in chuchotage and consecutive throughout a whole day on their own). But the new deal includes rates lower than before and almost no reimbursement of travel expenses. Here you can read more about what conditions ALS is offering to interpreters: www...

Public service interpreters started a list “Say No to ALS”: You can see some interesting statistics here:, for example “refuseniks”, as they call themselves, broken down by region and language.

Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, backed the interpreting community protesting against the decision in a campaign entitled Speak Up, Speak Out. Here’s the link to Unite’s campaign website, with some more background information:

Concerns about quality have also been raised by criminal defence solicitors in Britain:

The issue was also raised last month in the House of Commons, and in particular the fact that ALS interpreters’ personal data (and other details that appear on interpreters’ claim forms) were being stored outside the UK and beyond the reach of EU data protection laws, see:

Where do the police fit into the justice sector outsourcing picture? Some police forces already made their own decisions to outsource language services back in 2009/2010. ALS provides interpreting services to six police forces in the North West - under a different framework agreement. So far three police forces in the UK have decided to sign a Service Level Agreement under the MoJ's Framework Agreement. But Police forces in the UK answer to the Home Office, and as such do not necessarily have to sign contracts with ALS. For example, the biggest police force in the UK - the Metropolitan Police - has its own unit dealing with language services.

Source: Interpreting in the world - AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) Facebook group

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