11 April 2013
Court interpreter in the dock
“No use” having interpreters there on only 98% of occasions when they are required
The President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir John Thomas has expressed surprise at Capita Translation and Interpreting Ltd’s argument that it need only supply court interpreters on time and in the right place 98% of the time to fulfil its contractual obligations.
Capita, formerly known as Applied Language Solutions, disputed a costs order for £23.25 imposed on it after a Slovakian interpreter arrived late at Sheffield Crown Court due to a communications mix-up.
In the ensuing case, R v Applied Language Solutions  EWCA Crim 326, the court looked at the role of Capita and the extent of its obligations as set out in its agreement. The monitoring schedule to the agreement set out, as one of the “key performance indicators”, “evidence that 98% of all assignments requested were fulfilled”.
Delivering his judgment, Sir John said: “We cannot accept this argument...without [an interpreter] a case cannot proceed. It seems to us inconceivable that the Ministry of Justice would have entered into a contract where the obligation... was framed in any terms other than an absolute obligation. It is simply no use to a court having an interpreter there on 98% of occasions when interpreters are required, because if an interpreter is required justice cannot be done without one and a case cannot proceed.”
However, Sir John found in Capita’s favour, holding that a single failure did not amount to serious misconduct.
He added that a failure to remedy the cause of a failure or repeated failures might constitute serious misconduct.
He said: A contractor cannot be allowed to maximise its profit or reduce its loss in the context of court proceedings by not having in place the best systems and the best interpreters.”
Capita’s interpreting contract began in January 2012. It has been criticised in three Parliamentary and auditing reports for failing to meet targets.