April 11, 2012
Ipswich: Court interpreter service is a lottery in any language
Feast or famine is probably the best way to describe the new court interpreter system which has turned into a national lottery.
In the latest shambolic snapshot of the will-they-or-won’t-they-appear farce, four Polish interpreters turned up for three separate cases at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court when one was likely to have sufficed.
In addition, two Mandarin-speaking translators shared duties during the same short hearing for two Chinese defendants, while a Mandarin-speaking solicitor sat between them.
It is understood that when booking an interpreter, court staff have to request them online for each case, which would account for the excess number at the four hearings before Ipswich magistrates yesterday.
Conversely however, a Lithuanian man awaiting sentencing for domestic violence had to have his fate put off for a second time as no interpreter attended court.
He will now have to return next week in the hope that a translator is present for his third scheduled sentencing date.
When the magistrates checked with the court clerk to ask if an interpreter would be present at the next hearing, the clerk replied: “I will ask again. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee anything.”
The absurdity of the system was further highlighted when a Portuguese interpreter failed to show up to translate for another defendant.
The absence left his solicitor, John Hughes, with a dilemma which was only resolved by requesting that one of his friends in the waiting area prepared a note for him in Portuguese which would be given to the defendant to state his case was being adjourned to another date.
The new contractor for the court interpreter system, Oldham-based ALS, has said it is aware of problems since it took over in late January but is striving to ensure improvements are made as new working practices are embedded.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice also previously conceded there were concerns, but said it would be monitoring the situation to ensure procedures were being put in place to overcome them.
Over the past three weeks The Star has reported how one interpreter made a 560-mile, nine-hour rail trip from Newcastle to Ipswich for an eight-minute court hearing, and that court officials are e-mailing Poland and India, as well as the UK to book interpreters.
The situation has led to widespread criticism from solicitors in Suffolk and at least one Ipswich Crown Court judge, about the mounting cost of delays to the taxpayer and the lack of fairness to defendants.