6 February 2013
MoJ contract handling 'shambolic'
A Government department has been branded "shambolic" by MPs over its handling of a contract for court language services that in one case saw an unqualified man stand in for his wife as an interpreter during a murder trial.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ignored warnings that the quality of services would be sacrificed when it outsourced the contract for providing court interpreters, the Justice Committee said. The department has been told it may have been in contempt of Parliament after it ordered court staff not to take part in the committee's inquiry.
"The Ministry of Justice's handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic," committee chair Sir Alan Beith said.
The contract with Applied Language Solutions, now known as Capita Translation and Interpreting after it was taken over, led to court proceedings being held up and even cases collapsing after it launched early last year.
Justice minister Helen Grant said while there had been "significant" issues at the start of the contract, the department had seen dramatic improvements after taking "swift and robust action".
A lack of registered interpreters, resulting in poor quality of services and a struggle to meet demand, was among the problems faced by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the committee said.
In one incident, an unqualified man arrived at the murder trial of mother-of-two Rajvinder Kaur to stand in as an interpreter for his wife. The man turned up at Winchester Crown Court 45 minutes late and concerns were raised after 30 minutes that he was not translating questions into Punjabi. Kaur was later jailed for life for bludgeoning her mother-in-law to death in a frenzied rage with a rolling pin. Other issues raised included interpreters being asked to travel long distances to attend court, often from the other side of the country, poor levels of pay, a lack of qualifications and mistranslation. The committee was told that one interpreter mistranslated a defendant's statement, which ultimately gave the jury the impression that their evidence was not credible, but no action was taken.
Commenting further on the MoJ's conduct, Sir Alan said: "It did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts."
In the course of the inquiry, it emerged HMCTS instructed staff not to participate in the committee's online consultation. The committee said the actions of the MoJ may have constituted a contempt of the House of Commons, but as it received sufficient evidence from other sources to make a reliable judgment, it has not asked the House to take further action. Sir Alan warned that the committee members "deplore the Ministry's ill-advised actions and there should be no repetition of them in the future".
Ms Grant said: "There were significant issues at the start of the contract in early 2012 but we took swift and robust action and have seen dramatic improvements, as the Justice Select Committee highlights. The vast majority of interpreter bookings are now being completed and complaints have fallen considerably."