Monday, 1 April 2013

Court translation services slammed 
By Anna Moran, from insidetime issue April 2013

Court translation services slammed
A parliamentary committee has called the Ministry of Justice ‘shambolic’ in its handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services to Applied Language Solutions says Anna Moran
The Justice Committee report published last month stated that
the MoJ:
• Did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts;
• Failed to heed warnings from professionals concerned; and
• Did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts.
The evidence before the Committee suggested that the MoJ failed to properly understand the complexities of court interpreting and pushed ahead with the contract despite warnings that the plans proposed would diminish quality standards amongst those employed to provide court interpreting services. Indeed, professional
interpreters largely boycotted the scheme and refused to work for ALS, which found quickly that it did not have the resources to fulfil its obligations to the court for defendants, victims and witnesses. The result was serious and immediate operational problems leading to cancelled hearings and mis-translated proceedings and evidence, with particular effect on the criminal justice system, in which translators can be relied on from arrest to post-trial proceedings.
Helen Grant, Under Secretary of State for Justice conceded problems with the service initially, but said that there had been dramatic improvements and that “the changes we have made have led to major savings for taxpayers, totalling £15m in the first year”.
The Committee however states that such savings are illusionary, as the contract is currently being financially supported by Capita, and so any savings are effectively only coming at Capita’s expense, which leads to the conclusion the arrangement is financially unstable long term. In addition to the mounting costs, there is little evidence of any improvement in practice, with serious and frequent failings in the service still being reported, including proceedings being translated incorrectly or not at all.
Even more worryingly, the Committee also found that the MoJ had actively interfered with the collection of evidence during its investigation. It found that HMCTS had issued a direction to all staff that they must not participate in the Committee’s online consultation (with the aim of gathering evidence from front line staff), and had dissuaded members of the magistracy from participating. Whilst the Committee did not ask the House of Commons to take further action against the MoJ, it stated that it had given serious consideration to doing so, and that it had been ‘hampered’ by the MoJ’s ‘unhelpful’ conduct which it considered to amount to contempt of Parliament. It also made it clear that this sort of conduct should not be repeated in the future, calling it deplorable
The Committee has called for an independent review and revisions of the service arrangements in order to restore confidence of the judiciary, magistracy and legal professionals, and of course court users themselves. It will be monitoring the MoJ in its progress with the contract. Defendants and defence solicitors may also need to turn their minds to any effect that the problems may have had on court cases in the past 12 months that have relied on any form of translation, particularly on interpreted evidence.

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