9 July 2012
£12m interpreter savings 'unlikely'
A new contract for providing interpreters in courts is unlikely to meet an expected £12 million saving in its first year, the Government has admitted.
The national scheme, run by Applied Language Solutions (ALS), has been plagued by reports of cases being delayed or abandoned as a result of translators failing to turn up or making mistakes.
Justice minister Lord McNally said ALS had made "a very poor start to this contract" but there had since been big improvements.
Labour's Lord Harrison asked at question time in the House of Lords whether the Government would revise down the "original £12 million estimate" of cost savings.
Lord McNally replied: "I presume that some of the original estimates of a £12 million saving in this first year will probably not be achieved - that makes common sense - but this isn't a solution just for this year but a long-term solution which we hope, once it is bedded down, will give the service and quality required."
Baroness Coussins, an independent crossbench peer and vice president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, said she understood the company was "supplying performance data to the Government which suggests they are dong a good job".
But she added: "These figures come without any independent verification or audit and they tell a very different story from the complaints we are hearing daily from judges and others about the failure to provide interpreters or the sending of unqualified, inexperienced people with no experience of simultaneous interpreting and some who are simply incompetent, in one case not understanding the difference between murder and manslaughter."
And retired senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, a crossbencher, asked Lord McNally: "Are you aware of the extent of disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting which is not only leading to very considerable cost but also concerns have been raised by judges across the country, particularly in London, in Birmingham and in Leeds?"
Lord McNally said the Ministry of Justice had a "massive interest in making sure Applied Language Solutions provides the quality of service for which it is contracted".
He added: "There has been improvement and we are talking about a system where there are some 800 requests a day for such interpretation - in the first quarter of its operation some 26,000 requests in 142 languages. One has got to get complaints about performance into perspective."