Friday 16 March 2012 by John Hyde
‘Grossly overpaid’ interpreters to blame for courts fiasco, says minister
Justice minister Crispin Blunt has blamed the ‘grossly overpaid’ interpreters ‘taking advantage of the system’ for the need to outsource the court contract.
Blunt told the House of Commons this week that the old system of courts and tribunals booking their own interpreters was too expensive and had to be reformed. Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the Ministry of Justice headquarters in London yesterday calling for an immediate end to the government’s contract with Capita-owned Applied Language Solutions.
The protesters say that hundreds of court and tribunal proceedings have been delayed or cancelled because of a lack of interpreters and the majority of professionals have refused to accept work from ALS.
Blunt told the Commons on Tuesday that an eight-week pilot in the north west had given ‘no indication’ of any problems and that the situation is now under control. He said that within two weeks of the national roll-out, ‘when the problems became clear’, his officials had ensured measures were put in place to put right the problems.
‘Some of the problems, strangely enough, came from the interpreters who, on finding that under the new payment regime they could no longer earn six-figure salaries, as they could under the previous administration, did not co-operate. They are now doing so.’ He added that the new contract, which began on 1 February, is still expected to save £18m a year.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter has written to the attorney general to warn about the danger to justice if interpreters are failing to appear in court. Slaughter spoke at the demonstration in support of the protest but told the Gazette he does not necessarily advocate returning to the old system of booking interpreters.
‘There has to be a new arrangement - that may not be the old system. I have literally hundreds of files and papers of people being remanded or released because there was no interpreter.
‘I want to know how ALS got the contract and I want to know how much public money is being wasted.’