Justice Committee - Written evidence from the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance (PIA)
Written evidence from the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance (PIA)
THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT WITH APPLIED LANGUAGE SOLUTIONS LTD/CAPITA PLC. FOR THE PROVISION OF INTERPRETING AND TRANSLATION SERVICES IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SECTOR
What? A National Framework Agreement that changed, ie lowered, the minimum standards for interpreters working in CJS.
Where? The MoJ has contracted on behalf of: all of HMCTS in England and Wales; the CPS; and NOMS.
In addition, nine police forces currently use ALS Ltd (not all under the FWA). If the Home Office Police Procurement Proposals are adopted, the MOJ/ALS FWA will become mandatory for all police forces.
When? In HMCTS in North West England, since November 2011; HMCTS across England and Wales from 01 February 2012. However, interpreters continue to be engaged directly by HMCTS and the AIT Bookings centre as well as through other agencies, alongside ALS Ltd.
The CPS contract is signed but not yet live across all regions. The CPS has been making use of the Framework Agreement in four Witness Care Units since 1 February 2012. The CPS is now scheduled to start using the Contract for the remainder of its interpreting services from 1 September 2012, but this date is being kept under review.
Under the previous system, as outlined in the National Agreement, freelancers drawn from the NRPSI and other approved lists were contacted directly by courts and police. Rates were set centrally. Around 2,300 NRPSI interpreters (qualified, vetted, registered, experienced, subject to an independent complaints and disciplinary procedure) served the courts with problems occurring only rarely. The MoJ’s rationale for changing the system is unpersuasive.
Since February 2012
More than 60% of NRPSI interpreters expressly reject ALS Ltd’s terms of engagement and lowered quality standards and are currently refusing all direct court bookings as well.
Media coverage in the first weeks of the contract concentrated on ALS linguists simply not turning up, turning up late, or leaving early, causing adjournments and unnecessary remands.
As an interim measure, in the first weeks of ALS supplying courts nationwide HMCTS reverted to using the old system alongside ALS to provide for hearings at short notice. Most NRPSI interpreters who refuse to work for ALS Ltd are also refusing direct HMCTS bookings as they refuse to help prop up ALS. Effectively, the majority of NRPSI interpreters have withheld their services from HMCTS since 1 February 2012.
As we predicted, ALS does not have sufficient linguists with the necessary skills and qualifications for CJS work. Now, the poor quality of ALS Linguists is receiving media attention and Judges are increasingly outspoken. Recently, a trial collapsed due to interpreter error, costing £25k. There have been others.
In addition, concerns have been expressed about unlawful harvesting of interpreters’ personal data by ALS to purport to have more on its books than it does. Interpreters who are known to have a police record or criminal record (and were struck off the NRPSI) are verifiably working in the courts through ALS.
There is no assurance of quality, experience, professional ethics, vetting or professional indemnity insurance cover.
The MoJ has taken ALS Ltd/Capita’s assurances (about quality, vetting, number of qualified linguists) at face value and made no checks.
Legal professionals including Judges appear to be allowing incompetent ALS linguists to muddle on, even when defendants protest about the poor quality.
There is a lack of awareness about the change in interpreter provision and a lack of vigilance by defence counsel to ensure the interpreter is competent.
The figures released by the Ministry of Justice on 24 May 2012 constituted only one tenth of the management information that ALS Ltd is required to provide according to the terms of the contract. The presentation of the figures is skewed, but even by the Ministry of Justice’s own admission more than one in ten assignments (12%) resulted in a complaint. ALS Ltd’s fulfilment rate is cited as 81% (of the requests placed with it), overlooking the fact that a large proportion of HMCTS assignments bypass ALS Ltd when courts book interpreters directly or through other commercial agencies. ALS Ltd has not fulfilled 81% of all HMCTS bookings, but just 81% of the bookings entrusted to it.
The continued operation of this ‘mixed economy’ approach to sourcing interpreters for the courts and police is evidence that Applied Language Solutions is failing to meet the Key Performance Indicators of the Framework Agreement. Moreover, with HMCTS and police forces paying to engage interpreters directly in addition to the budget set aside for ALS Ltd’s services, just where are the savings promised by the Framework Agreement being achieved?
A formal complaint sent by PIA to ALS Ltd on 22 May 2012 logged more than 250 separate incidents where ALS Ltd’s performance caused disruption to the legal system, and more than seventy separate incidents where the competence and performance of ALS workers has been inadequate. ALS Ltd has not responded to PIA’s complaint.
Adjournments result in wasted costs: wasted court days, the cost of prisoner transport and detention, expenses of parties and witnesses attending court, and the cost of unnecessary remands in custody. The costs incurred by ALS Ltd’s failings are both human and material.
In the courts, wasted costs caused by ALS Ltd’s failings have been granted routinely since the contract began. Non-English speakers denied an interpreter and unnecessary remanded in custody as a consequence are now bringing damages claims based on HRA Art 5&6 breaches. Appeals resulting from mistrials are sure to follow.
ALS Ltd has not published a formal complaints procedure. No Disciplinary Framework and Procedure is published by ALS Ltd, so that neither complainants nor ALS Ltd workers facing disciplinary procedures are fully informed of the process they can expect to be followed, or of any Appeals Procedure open to them. This is contrary to principles of Natural Justice and accepted employment practice.
The various responsibilities that ALS Ltd has under the Framework Agreement are in direct conflict with one another: ALS Ltd controls registration, assessment, work provision, quality standards, recruitment, code of conduct and disciplinary functions and sanctions.
At grassroots level, interpreters are effectively on strike and are monitoring the courts; their reports are centrally collected. Eyewitness accounts of ALS failings are also reported on a dedicated website set up by interpreters.
A number of interpreter organisations are working together to continue to lobby through the Professional Interpreters for Justice Campaign. There have been various demonstrations, two of them at Westminster.
PIA’s members are volunteering to interpret for solicitors pursuing damages claims with their non-English speaking clients and information has been produced in various languages.