February 22, 2012
Decision by courts to only use translators from one agency causes widespread disruption to judicial system
Dozens of protesters gathered outside Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court on Monday evening to voice their concerns on the issue.
A deal made on February 1 between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Applied Language Solutions (ALS) dictated that all translator bookings had to go through that single company. The idea was to cut court translator spending to a third, and also make the service more efficient. But according to Amjad Ali, a professional translator and member of Justice For Interpreters (JFI), the deal has had the reverse effect because the ALS is struggling to cope with the contract.
“Because translators are failing to turn up, or are under qualified to sit in the hearings, the result is usually a postponement, which is time consuming and obviously costs more,” said Mr Ali, who was involved in the protests by JFI outside Manchester Crown Court on Monday.
Just two weeks after the deal, the MoJ has told the courts that if ALS translators fail to turn up, or in urgent circumstances, they can hire their own interpreters, at regular rates. But most fully qualified translators have boycotted the courts and the ALS, because the new deal meant they would be taking a massive pay cut.
According to Khalid Khan, spokesperson for the JFI, many translators started working for the ALS and then after the first pay check, worked out that they are almost losing money, through travel and expenses.“My friend worked out that after a job in Blackburn, which took 4 hours of his time, he only made £2.50 an hour. “After he worked that out, he refused to take any more jobs,” said Mr Khan.
The boycotting has left in the ALS struggling to cope with the number of cases needing translators, resulting in them fast tracking under qualified translators into the company. Mr Khan said that in Manchester, they are pulling anyone who can speak Urdu, the most common language used by translators in the area, off the streets. The entrance criteria are a simple oral exam and then a page of text to be translated, that can be emailed into the ALS which could ‘easily be fixed’ says Mr Khan. Aamar Abbasi, a member of the JFI from Bradford, explained there have been cases of misinterpretation including charges being relayed incorrectly and information being wrongly translated during hearings. “Some judges have event told interpreters they can’t understand their English and have asked them to leave the court,” he said.
A case in Manchester was adjourned twice because one interpreter failed to turn up and one was completely clueless to court procedure and was asked to leave. Cases like this have been popping up all over the country, with one interpreter from London being rushed from his day job to court, turning up in a boiler suit.
District Judge Ken Sheraton was unable to go ahead with two cases earlier this week after interpreters failed to turn up despite requests from Peterborough Magistrates’ Court to book them for the hearings.
Mr Khan also refuses to work for the ALS and is now looking for another job because he believes that the MoJ will put up with the problems and hope things get better in the future. “If they don’t, they will have a job trying to get us qualified translators back,” he said.