May 7, 2013
Language problems cause delays at Shrewsbury Crown Court
A case at Shrewsbury Crown Court had to be adjourned twice after an interpreter could not be found, it was revealed today.
Barristers have blamed the problem on changes which have seen the centralisation of the service.
Courts can no longer book their own interpreters and have to deal with an organisation working on behalf of the Government.
It is part of a reform of criminal legal aid to cut costs that will see just nine law firms appointed to do criminal court work in Shropshire, with the public having no choice in who appears for them in a criminal hearing.
On Thursday, a three-day-trial due to be held at the crown court had to be adjourned for the second time in a week because a interpreter that had been booked for the defendant was not available.
Judge Peter Barrie apologised to the defendant and witnesses and said that because of centralisation of services, the courts were no longer able to approach translators directly.
Barristers Mr Ian Ball and Mr David Munro, said the difficulties were indicative of the government’s shake-up of the criminal justice system.
Consultation, under way over the Ministry of Justice document Transforming Legal Aid, will end in June.
Possible changes include fee cuts of up to 17.5 per cent, competitive tendering for legal aid contracts and clients no longer being able to choose their own defence lawyer.
Mr Ball said: “We are united in our fight against this.”
Mr Munro, of St Philips Chambers, added: “It will change the whole landscape of the justice system.
“The aim is to cut the number of criminal case solicitors’ firms in England and Wales from 1,600 to 400.
“Just 20 will be given contracts for the whole of the West Midlands and just nine for the West Mercia and Warwickshire region.
“The public will not have a choice and anyone charged with a criminal offence will be allocated a solicitor.”
The shake-up will also have a huge effect on barristers, both men agreed.
“Crown Court advocacy fees are being recommended to be cut by between 20 per cent and 30 per cent,” Mr Ball said.
“For some long court cases it will mean that barristers could earn just £15 a day.”
Kirsty Sewter from Capita, which has the contract for interpreter services, said: “When issues do arise, Capita has a robust management procedure in place that ensures all complaints are investigated."