11 April 2016 by Monidipa Fouzder
Renewed uncertainty over court interpreting
The future of courtroom interpreting is once again uncertain following the current monopoly supplier’s decision to bid only for a residual element of a new contract, the Gazette has learned.
Capita Translation and Interpreting, which has never met its key performance target since taking over courtroom interpreting services in England and Wales, is to bid for only one of four lots of a new contract scheduled to begin on 31 October.
Capita TI currently provides full language services in courts and tribunals under a framework agreement which aroused fierce controversy when it came into effect in 2012. In line with the government’s stated policy for public procurement, the successor contract has been broken into four lots: face-to-face interpretation (1); written translation and transcription (2); non-spoken language interpretation (3); and independent quality assurance (4).
Capita has confirmed it is bidding only for lot 2, written translation and transcription. This indicates that critical face-to-face work could once again be given to a business with no recent track record in the sector.
Representative group Professional Interpreters for Justice said it understood that the other two bidders are thebigword and TransPerfect.
Kevin Crowhurst, director of business development at TransPerfect said it is ‘participating in the bid for lot 1’ and that the company has 'many years of experience in UK courtroom interpreting'. Thebigword did not reply to requests for comment.
Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that Capita TI has continuously fallen short of the 98% performance target stated in the contract. Latest figures published by the ministry show that Capita TI completed 97% of requests for language services between July and September 2015, the highest success rate since the contract started on 30 Janary 2012.
Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J) wrote to Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), on behalf of several organisations, in February calling for an ‘impartial scrutiny’ of the ministry’s procurement process.
The letter states: 'We need scarcely remind you of the sad history of the MoJ Framework Agreement (FWA) for the provision of language services from its inception in January 2012, which was the subject of a PAC enquiry in 2012 and a number of hearings and reports.
'Sadly, the MoJ seems to have learned nothing from this, and the procurement process for its replacement contract (not a framework) commenced in the latter part of 2015.’
It continues: ‘We understand that in December the MoJ determined a group of three candidates which would go forward from the PQQ [pre-qualification questionnaire] stage to a competitive dialogue. This has caused consternation for interpreters who, yet again, have been ignored.’
A spokesperson for the MoJ told the Gazette: ‘It would be inappropriate to discuss an ongoing procurement process. The contract will be awarded following this formal procurement process.’