29th March 2012
Bradford Judge demands firm explain after it failed to provide interpreter in case
A leading Bradford judge is demanding answers after calling a new system’s failure to provide a translator for a vulnerable woman in a violence and sex abuse trial “a disgrace”.
Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC joined mounting condemnation of Applied Language Solutions (ALS), the company now responsible for providing interpreters across the country.
He said ALS had been spared a wasted costs order for halting the trial only because the defendant changed his pleas to guilty.
Although the company had provided an Urdu interpreter for the defendant, no translator appeared for the young Pakistani woman he was accused of sexually molesting and burning with an iron.
At lunchtime on the second day of the trial, Richard Clews, barrister for the Crown, said witness care staff at Bradford Crown Court had rung ALS to try to find out why no-one had turned up.
The company said someone did go to the court but decided she did not want to interpret for the victim. Mr Clews said no one had made themselves known to staff.
ALS said a translator would be there at 10am on Tuesday, the second day of the trial when the woman was due to start giving her evidence. When no-one turned up, witness care was told another interpreter was coming to Bradford from Newcastle.
Judge Durham Hall told the court: “They have singularly failed to provide an interpreter for the prosecution witness.”
He would have been forced to discharge the jury if the trial had not unexpectedly concluded.
The judge demanded that ALS management write to him in 14 days with “a full and clear explanation” of what went wrong. After receiving the letter, he would consider what action to take, possibly summoning ALS.
Judge Durham Hall said the old scheme, based on local interpreters “worked perfectly well”.
He is the latest in a line of judges and lawyers to hit out at ALS – who were awarded a contract by the Ministry of Justice in a move intended to save £18 million a year – for failing to provide interpreters for court cases.
In Bradford, many defendants, victims and witnesses – predominantly those from Pakistan and Eastern Europe – rely on interpreters to help them.
An ALS spokesman said: “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.”
29 March 2012
Courts need to be clearly understood
Judge Jonathan Durham Hall did not hold back when he criticised failings in the new system to provide translators during court proceedings for both defendants and witnesses, branding one particular instance a ‘disgrace’.
The Bradford judge is quite right to express his concerns so vociferously, particularly as the case in question involved a vulnerable woman who had allegedly been sexually molested and physically assaulted.
His comments are the latest in a series of criticisms by judges and solicitors following the awarding of the contract to provide interpreters to a private company, ALS.
The move was designed to save £18m a year for the Ministry of Justice.
And, as with any change, there have been teething problems as the way the process for translators being provided in court changes.
But the British justice system is renowned around the world for its fairness, and it is vital that vulnerable people who do not speak English are able to understand the proceedings – and, even more importantly, have their voices heard.
In the case that caused Judge Durham Hall concerns, he came close to having to discharge the jury. That would have resulted in cost implications, but even more significantly, it would have increased the trauma to the alleged victim in particular.
As a result, he has demanded a full explanation from ALS.
Hopefully, they will be able to provide a satisfactory one, convincing the judge that this was a relatively rare incident of a type that will be reduced still further as the company beds down.
But it is vital that our legal professionals continue to monitor the issue, which should help to sharpen ALS’s resolve to iron out problems.