28 March 2012
Interpreter travels 560 miles for Ipswich court case
An interpreter has made a 560 mile round-trip from Newcastle upon Tyne to Ipswich to assist with a court case lasting less than 10 minutes.
The committal hearing at the magistrates court was for a defendant who spoke Vietnamese.
Neil Saunders, the defendant's solicitor, said: "I don't think anyone's come that far before."
The Ministry of Justice said it was committed to "safeguarding" the needs of those requiring an interpreter.
Mr Saunders said the committal hearing lasted eight minutes and for three previous hearings, no interpreter had been available.
He said the female interpreter told him she was paid £20 plus travel expenses.
"She said they couldn't get any others, but that could be down to the fact that they don't pay any others enough, and so she left home at 3 o'clock in the morning," he said.
"They come from London all the time, but this one is a record that's got to stand for a while and raised eyebrows is a polite way of putting it.
"It is a matter of the government trying to save money."
The arrangement was made by Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which has been supplying interpreters to courts in England and Wales since February.
Courts in England and Wales previously hired freelance interpreters from a national register.
ALS was awarded the contract by the government in an attempt to save £18m from its £60m costs.
Another Ipswich-based lawyer, Dino Barricella, said he used a website to translate for one of his clients who was without a translator.
"I had to use Google to translate bail conditions," he said. "But later someone looked at it and said it was all back to front.
"It might give you the gist, but you can't rely on it."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson admitted that there had been an "unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract".
"We have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance," the spokesperson said.
"We remain committed to ensuring the rights and needs of those who require interpreters are safeguarded as well as ensuring value for tax-payers across the justice system, and will continue to monitor the system on a daily basis."
A spokesperson for ALS said it did not pass on the cost of sourcing and placing an interpreter from another part of the country on to the court.
"We only charge the court for the time that the interpreter is at the court, which is set at a minimum rate of one hour," said the spokesperson.
This, the spokesperson said, was an improvement on the previous system which paid interpreters for a minimum of three hours.