29th April 2012
Interpreter shortage causes Croydon courts backlog
A shortage of interpreters is causing massive backlogs in court cases, according to one lawyer.
The government privatised translator services after striking a £300m deal with Applied Language Solutions.
But a lack of translators at Croydon’s courts is causing delays, increasing waiting times and costs.
Robert Hardy-McBride, a lawyer at Steel & Shamash, said the different ethnic groups meant translators were in high demand in Croydon.
He said: “Croydon is a glorious melting pot of diversity.
“Much of this is due to the location of the Home Office. Croydon has more than its share of foreign language speakers before the court so is likely to be more affected than most.
“Cases in Croydon have been adjourned due to a lack of translators causing matters to be relisted that should have been finished in one or two hearings, this increases the length of lists and longer waiting times and costs for all involved.
“I have personally dealt with a case adjourned twice for a lack of interpreter, on the second time ALS simply cancelled the signer without telling the court, client or solicitor.”
Mr Hardy-McBride said the government had stopped paying solicitors’ waiting time which means they are left out of pocket for any delays waiting for translators.
And Mr Hardy-McBride is worried the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
He added: “Until the Ministry of Justice accept they have made a mistake by entering the contract, there will be concerns that this deplorable situation will continue.
“The background to the whole affair is the government’s attempt to cut costs to the bone: closing courts, reducing Legal Aid eligibility and payment rates and so on.
“There is discontent throughout the criminal justice system from police officers to judges.”
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt admitted earlier this month there were “problems” but insisted the situation was "rapidly improving".
A spokesman for ALS said: “The contract began less than 2 months ago, we are fulfilling the vast majority of bookings (nearly 3,000 a week) and have 2,000 experienced and qualified linguists actively working within the system.
“More interpreters are signing up daily. Assigning qualified and experienced linguists to assignments and insisting on continuous professional development, while reducing operational inefficiencies, remains our focus.”