2 February 2015
Capita fined over failure to provide interpreters to family courts
Capita, the private outsourcing company, has been ordered to pay £16,000 by the most senior judge in the family courts for its “lamentable” failure to provide interpreters seven times in the course of a single adoption case.
The damning comments made by Sir James Munby, president of the family division, highlight concern among lawyers and MPs at the way in which the £300m contract is operated. Labour’s justice spokesman said it demonstrated the contract was out of control.
Two years ago the justice select committee described the manner in which the court interpreting service was privatised as “shambolic” and said it had resulted in trials collapsing and suspects being remanded unnecessarily in custody.
Capita took over the service in 2012 after it bought another firm, ALS, which had been awarded the contract. Hundreds of professional interpreters are still boycotting the service over what they say are low fees.
This is believed to be the largest single costs order imposed on Capita for problems with its interpreting service. In his judgment, Munby said there had been a “repeated failure” by Capita to provide Slovak interpreters in a family court case launched in 2012.
On six occasions at Dover family proceedings court, Capita’s interpreters failed to arrive or were too late forcing the abandonment of hearings at which the parents were contesting the removal of their children.
When the case was transferred to the high court in London in May 2014 to be heard by Munby, the interpreters failed to appear again. He was forced to adjourn the proceedings and ordered that HM Courts and Tribunal Service should instead provide interpreters.
Munby explained: “It would have been unjust, indeed inhumane, to continue with the final hearing of applications as significant as those before me – this, after all, was their final opportunity to prevent the adoption of their children – if the parents were unable to understand what was being said.”
The judge continued: “There have been serial failures by Capita in this case against a background of wider systemic problems... The failures .... were not minor but extensive, and, at two different stages of the litigation, they had a profound effect on the conduct of the proceedings.”
Capita will not be liable for every occasion it fails to provide an interpreter, he added, ”lamentable though its failures to provide such interpreters were in this particular case and, seemingly, more generally. Everything will depend upon the precise circumstances of the particular case”.
The judge ordered Capita to pay Kent county council £15,927.36. Munby’s judgment comes amid mounting concern within the judiciary over delays and additional costs caused by private contractors on the court service. Last month a judge-led review by Sir Brian Leveson suggested that private security firms that delay delivering prisoners to court should face stiff financial penalties.
Commenting on the ruling, Labour’s shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter, said: “This is another damning blow to [justice secretary] Chris Grayling from one of Britain’s top judges. It is truly shocking that the government are unable to get a grip three years into the contract.
“Capita’s under performance in providing interpreting and translation services is an embarrassment from which even this Lord Chancellor cannot hide from as official figures show that hundreds of interpreters are continuing to turn up late or not at all.”
A spokesperson for Capita said: “Due to ongoing legal procedures, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage.”