23 May 2013
Legal aid contracts just won’t work
[…] "But given the Ministry of Justice’s lamentable track record, the chances that they will go according to plan are just about nil. When the ministry introduced a far simpler scheme to centralise bookings for legal interpreters the result, as we all now know, was courtroom chaos that continues to this day.
The winner of the interpreting contract, an Oldham company, Applied Language Solutions (ALS), promised huge savings by using unqualified interpreters, and duly delivered a widely predicted disaster.
The whole fiasco was described by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “… Total chaos... there has been a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling. Despite this, the Ministry has only penalised the supplier a risible £2,200. This is an object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service.”
The ministry’s handling of the ALS contract has been so cack-handed — and still is — that it is impossible even to guess the amount of money wasted in adjournments and unnecessary remands, to say nothing of the misery and injustice caused to witnesses and defendants. Many interpreters have simply packed up and left the profession to the unqualified and untrained amateurs that the “reformed” system now relies upon.
The ALS scandal involved a single contract intended to save £5 million. It only affected the small fraction of cases in which interpreters are required. The mind boggles at the thought of the same ministry being let loose on 400 separate contracts, in a scheme affecting practically every criminal case in the country.
Before signing the ALS contract the Ministry of Justice was warned that it would be a disaster. It ploughed on regardless. It is heading for a far bigger disaster now, and it cannot say that it was not warned."