Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Language problem

Language problem
ANALYSIS. John Storer writes about the growing crisis enveloping a controversial new contract to run court interpreter services.

Flight risk
Anyway, there I was at Boston Magistrates’ Court on the second or third day of the new system. I was court duty solicitor, and was told there was a young Rumanian lad in custody. He’d been charged with (and admitted when interviewed by the police) a very large shop theft. He’d never been in court before. I was told an interpreter had been booked for 9.30am.
By 11.00am, and no interpreter had arrived, I started to make enquiries. The police confirmed they had booked one, but then rang me back to tell me they had been told by ALS that ‘no one had picked up the job’. I could not even explain to my client (who had not had the benefit of legal advice whilst at the police station – his own choosing) why there was a delay.
Several phone calls later, I was told an interpreter would be with me for 1.00pm. She arrived at 1.35pm, having driven many miles from another county. I was pleased to see she was nationally-registered. The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) maintains a register of professional, qualified and accountable public service interpreters.
So I was sure she would know what she was doing. And she did. We dealt with the case very swiftly after her arrival. She then began to tell me some real horror stories about the quality of some of her ‘colleagues’ who had joined ALS and who held no qualifications at all.
For instance, she told me that she had heard a custody sergeant refuse a detainee bail because he was ‘a flight risk’. Anyone in the criminal justice system would know that this meant he might abscond and fail to surrender to his bail at court. However, this was translated by the ‘interpreter’ into ‘You must stay here to stop you catching a plane’
Still, I was hopeful. Here was an interpreter who knew her stuff. Perhaps there would be others like her? I have not yet found out; she is the only interpreter who has turned up for any of my cases. So far, I am personally aware of 16 cases where the interpreter has simply failed to attend. Many of these have been for defendants in custody. One was charged with murder.
ALS have confirmed that ‘some’ cases have been cancelled because the firm was unable to provide interpreters. ‘Unfortunately that has been true in some cases which is something that we are working extremely hard to resolve,’ an ALS spokesperson said. Actually, I reckon this has been true in the majority of cases in our area and it is clear that the same thing has happened in courts up and down the country.

A mess of their own making
The ALS has acknowledged that there have been circumstances where it had not been possible to fulfil a booking at short notice. It added: ‘Prior to rollout there was limited accurate management information available regarding the expected daily volumes of short notice interpreter requests.
This is a five year, £300m contract – are they seriously saying that they did not actually know what was expected to fulfil that contract?

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