24 February 2012
Court interpreters hit out at changes
Court interpreters have said they could be forced to leave the profession over concerns about a new contract.
Earlier this week, District Judge Ken Sheraton said he was “frustrated” by adjournments and delays in court cases caused by interpreters failing to show up to court. The delays have happened since a deal was agreed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that from February 1, Oldham firm Applied Language Solutions (ALS) would supply interpreters for the courts.
Before February 1, courts booked interpreters directly to attend cases.
Since the deal, only ALS interpreters can be used by the courts and the firm does not pay interpreters as much as under the previous arrangement – either for hours spent at court or in transport costs.
While the MoJ claims this will save the taxpayer £18 million a year, interpreters who are not part of the ALS scheme have hit out at the deal, saying they could be forced to leave the industry.
City-based Polish interpreter Iwona Chodzicka, who has been working in courts since 2007, said she was thinking of taking up teaching instead. She said: “Since this deal was agreed the courts have not been able to book us directly as they have done in the past.
“We have now heard interpreters saying they do not have qualifications before they go into court. “Adjournments are happening across the country and it is very expensive for the courts. We have all spent years gaining qualifications. Now we are limited to working for the police. “The Ministry of Justice sent us a letter recently asking if we could help out for a couple of weeks, as it is in such a mess, but everyone has said they will not.
“I feel sorry for defendants, their families, witnesses and the court staff, who we have a good professional relationship with. We all have bills to pay but I would never sign up with ALS.”
Gintare Slamaite, a Lithuanian interpreter based in Cambridge, added: “There have been problems with the quality of interpreting as well. I have been in court where things have been interpreted wrongly. “There have been times when the interpreter has not interpreted things like asking if the defendant wants a summary trial or to go to Crown Court. If this is not happening, justice is not being done. “In some cases decisions made can shape lives so it is important things are interpreted correctly.”
An ALS spokeswoman said: “The new system has been designed to provide users and taxpayers with a better, more effective service. “We are closely monitoring the service and make changes and improvements as necessary.”
A MoJ spokesman added: “This new contract will save at least £18 million a year but will ensure that high quality interpreters and translators are still available to those in need.”