20 May 2016 by Monidipa Fouzder
Consumer watchdog warns of interpreters acting as "introducers"
Regulators should consider introducing a code of conduct for interpreters, a legal watchdog has advised, reporting that some interpreters have been acting as ‘introducers’ to law firms.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel says ‘better guidance is required around appropriate recruitment of interpreters and ensuring services meet acceptable standards’.
The panel was commissioned by the Legal Services Board to identify the areas of law it considered should be the priorities for the super-regulator’s work on ‘enabling demand for legal services to be met’.
Highlighting a ‘fragmented landscape’ in the area of asylum and immigration, the panel says it access to translators was raised as a problem, with examples of interpreters speaking the wrong language.
‘Where interpreters spoke the correct language, the evidence raised questions about the quality of interpretation as well as the role interpreters were playing – in some instances acting as introducers to law firms,’ the panel says.
‘Given the frequency with which interpreters are relied upon in asylum and immigration cases (and a great many other types of case), better guidance is required around appropriate recruitment of interpreters and ensuring services meet acceptable quality standards.’
The panel questions if there is a ‘regulatory role’ for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board ‘to explore with the relevant regulators the role and use of translation services across the legal services market, and encourage standardised best practice or a code of conduct from those operating within it’.
Identifying family and relationships as another priority area, the panel says changes in the provision of legal aid should not be left to result in a lack of access to legal services in the long term.
The panel says: ‘The question now is whether the market can adapt to fill the gaps. For example, firms might consider offering paralegal services, a lower cost alternative, or unbundled services for would-be litigants in person.’
The panel adds that ‘it is also telling’ that over a quarter of all complaints relating to family law seen by the Legal Ombudsman in 2014-15 related to ‘excessive’ costs and ‘deficient’ information.
The panel asks how approved regulators be encouraged to promote transparency in family law and further investigation of the regulatory barriers to a wider range of cases being offered on a fixed-fee basis.
In housing, the panel identifies a lack of ‘joined-up thinking’ within the legal process in repossession cases.
Noting positive outcomes in cases where the ‘consumer’ participated in the legal process, the panel found that, in some instances, landlords and housing officers were telling defendants not to attend court, and that some had a ‘fear or misunderstanding’ of the legal system.
The panel suggests regulators could play a role in encouraging better information-giving on the availability of advice and of the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme, which is funded by the Legal Aid Agency.