Friday 13 April 2012 by Catherine Baksi
Grieve: interpreter failure ‘not contempt’
The attorney general has declined a request to launch an action for contempt against a contractor accused of failing to supply court interpreters - but said that wasted costs orders could apply to such cases.
Responding to a letter from Labour MP Emily Thornberry urging him to bring contempt proceedings against Applied Language Solutions (ALS), Dominic Grieve QC (pictured) said: ‘The failure to provide an interpreter to a court does not seem to fall within the law of contempt.’ Instead he said: ‘This is an administrative issue best addressed by wasted costs and, ultimately, those who arrange such services for the courts.’
ALS supplies interpretation services to courts in England and Wales under a contract worth £42m a year. Since the new arrangements began on 1 February, solicitors and courts have reported that cases have been delayed or adjourned, due in part to interpreters refusing to work for ALS. The Gazette has learned that the company could face civil actions from defendants who were kept in custody following the non-appearance of interpreters at court hearings. Woolwich sole practitioner Dhaneshwar Sharma told the Gazette he is discussing the possibility of actions for false imprisonment in two such cases.
ALS said the lack of interpreters was not a new problem. ‘There have always been some cases which have been held back and suspects detained longer, bailed or occasionally released without charge because of a lack of available interpreters at a specific time,’ a spokeswoman said. ‘It is actually one of the inefficiencies the new system was brought in to counter and it will do so when it is operating optimally.’
Madeleine Lee, director of the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, said that if other similar claims are pursued against ALS, it might be possible for an organisation to seek a judicial review of the Ministry of Justice’s decision to award the contract.