Thursday 15 March 2012 by John Hyde and Catherine Baksi
Unite joins interpreting campaign
Britain’s biggest trade union this week joined a campaign for the Ministry of Justice to bring courtroom interpreting services back in-house from a contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS).
‘The courts system is descending into chaos, as suspects are not being informed of their rights and defendants are unable to instruct their barristers,’ Sally Kosky, national officer at Unite, said. ‘The cost of this outsourced shambles will, in the end, far outweigh any possible financial savings.’
ALS started to provide interpreting services to courts on 1 February under a contract designed to save £18m a year. Government ministers insist standards are improving.
But Unite and five professional organisations representing 2,343 registered public service interpreters called for courts and police services to resume the direct hiring of freelance interpreters. The campaign also urges statutory regulation of the interpreting profession and protection of the title of legal interpreter.
The organisations taking part in the campaign are: the National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators (part of Unite); the Association of Police and Court Interpreters; the Society for Public Service Interpreting; the Professional Interpreters Alliance; the Institute of Translation and Interpreting; and the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters.
Meanwhile, a judge at Worcester Crown Court publicly criticised ALS for failing to provide interpreters on time, saying that their absence was becoming a serious problem. According to local press reports, Judge Toby Hooper QC said to a Polish defendant whose case was adjourned for the fourth time because of the non-appearance of an interpreter: ‘I am ashamed of the system which fails yet again to provide an interpreter for you.’
ALS said its service has improved with the addition of more backroom staff and increased pay and expenses.
Justice minister Crispin Blunt this week gave his backing to the contract. He told the commons in a written reply: ‘We are seeing a steady improvement in performance.’ However, he said ALS is ‘not yet’ delivering service in line with some key performance indicators, for example that 98% of all assignments requested are fulfilled.
‘We are demanding continued action to ensure that the contractor meets these performance levels as soon as possible. Contingency arrangements to minimise disruption to courts and tribunals will remain in place until then,’ Blunt said.
The Crown Prosecution Service has also signed up to a framework agreement with ALS for the provision of interpreters in Lancashire, Staffordshire, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. A spokeswoman said no ‘significant’ problems had been reported and it would seek to adopt the same practice in all areas over time.