9 March 2012 | By Ruth Green
Government's court interpreting agency hit with wasted costs orders
The agency appointed by the Government as the sole provider of court interpreters has been issued with a number of wasted costs orders after issues with its service led to some cases being adjourned.
Dhaneshwar Sharma of Sharma Law Solicitors has issued several wasted costs orders against Applied Language Solutions (ALS), with one order already granted by the Magistrates Courts of London and one currently pending approval.
Sharma, who has experienced a number of instances where court hearings have been adjourned repeatedly due to ALS interpreters failing to turn up, said that any attempts by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and ALS to improve the situation have not gone far enough (16 February 2012).
“There has been a slight improvement, but there are still huge problems and there has by no means been a substantial improvement,” he said. “It’s disgraceful, the attitude seems to be, let’s deal with the situation, but continue to use the same system. There’s the old phrase, ’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Well, the court interpreter system was already fixed, then the Government broke it and are now just trying to reassemble it but using the same materials and hoping it will reap results. But you can’t replace a Rolls Royce with a Skoda.”
Each adjourned hearing costs around £300 and many lawyers like Sharma do not receive any payment for adjourned hearings or compensation for travel expenses.
The MoJ told courts at the end of February that they could make their own arrangements while it tries to iron out the problems with the new system (23 February 2012).
The Lawyer can also reveal that it has received several reports of interpreters being registered on ALS’s bank of interpreters, Linguist Lounge, without their knowledge or prior consent. Several interpreters, who did not wish to be named, are currently in talks with solicitors to have their names removed from the list.
According to a recent survey by Interpreters for Justice and consultancy group Involvis, 90 per cent of 1,206 interpreters have chosen to boycott the MoJ’s new system and are refusing to work for ALS.
Only 71 out of 1,206 interpreters said they had taken ALS’s assessment test for interpreters, with 93.5 per cent describing the assessment as “flawed”, “unprofessional” and “humiliating” and the majority said that they would not continue to work for ALS.
Geoffrey Buckingham, chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters and spokesperson for Interpreters for Justice, said: “ALS is saying they have 3,000 interpreters on their register, but when nine in 10 of professional interpreters who replied to our survey say they are refusing to sign up, this does not stack up. The result is that people without training, qualifications or legal experience are being used to interpret in court, which is creating chaos and higher costs. The Ministry of Justice might say these are teething problems, but we say they are terminal.”
As revealed by The Lawyer, an email sent from ALS chairman Gavin Wheeldon to the Professional Interpreters Alliance indicates that the agency has made a number of changes to its payment rates (23 February 2012).
In a recent email, Wheeldon said: “35 per cent of all courts have not missed a single booking”. In a bid to convince more people to sign up to the scheme, in the email he also offered interpreters £250 as a ’recruit a friend’ bonus.