chaos': Government accused of endangering justice by using cut-price courtroom
Britain’s leading translators today accused the government of
endangering justice with a cut-price private contract for courtroom
interpreters, which is “dangerous to the interests of public safety."
One witness called Ministry of Justice staff “arrogant”, while another
branded ministers’ consultation a "nonsultation".
Among other complaints heard by the House of Commons Justice committee
were badly-trained staff, unreliable service and poor pay for interpreters.
Applied Language Solutions (ALS) took over providing interpreters for
court cases nationally in January 2012, in a five-year deal worth £90 million.
They then overhauled pay and conditions for interpreters, with some
complaining they were paid below the minimum wage, causing a number of
professional interpreters to quit the court system or leave the profession
A report published last month by the National Audit Office (NAO)
revealed that in the contract’s first six months court staff lodged 5000
complaints about ALS, and they only supplied an interpreter for 58% of hearings
in February, against a target of 98%.
The report listed a legion of failures during the planning and
implementation of the deal, and recommended a complete check of every
interpreter working for the company.
Madeleine Lee, director of the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, told
the committee that ALS performs too many functions, responsible for supplying
translators, setting their standards and disciplining them.
She said: “It’s its own auditor because it’s reporting its own
performance figures on this contract.
“A lot of those functions, particularly the disciplinary function and
the regulatory function should be exercised independently.”
Nick Rosenthal, chair of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting,
said: “There’s every sign that all consultation with the profession was what
one colleague has described as a ‘nonsultation’,” a claim backed up by a
National Audit Office (NAO) report.
Ted Sangster, chair of the National Register of Public Service
Interpreters, told the hearing: “I have been absolutely amazed and dismayed
about the way in which the Ministry of Justice seeks to deal with its
“They are not prepared to listen. They are arrogant, incompetent, and
they treat their stakeholders with disdain.
“The existing situation is unsalvageable. It is dangerous to the
interests of public safety.”
Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Select
Committee, last month: “It is appalling that the ministry awarded ALS a £90
million contract to provide a service essential to ensuring the proper
administration of justice that was clearly beyond this company’s ability to
This caused what Hodge described as “courtroom chaos,” compromising
communication with defendants, and forcing staff to spend extra time finding
Hodge said: “My concern is that the resulting delays and hearing
cancellations caused distress for victims, defendants and witnesses, additional
costs to the taxpayer and damage to the reputation of the justice system.”
ALS has since been taken over by Capita, and on October 9 was re-named
Capita Translation and Interpreting.