10 September 2016
Nearly £70,000 has been spent on paying for translators at Crawley Magistrates' Court
The Ministry of Justice has spent nearly £70,000 on translators at Crawley Magistrates' Court over the last five financial years.
They were used on a total of 716 occasions, at a combined cost of £68,923 and between them helped to translate court proceedings for defendants and witnesses into 39 different foreign languages.
More than a quarter of those jobs (183) involved interpreting English into Polish and back again.
The number of times proceedings have had to be translated into Polish has increased sharply in recent years.
In the 2012/13 financial year there were only three occasions where Polish translators were needed.
A year later that figure had jumped up to 28, before rocketing up to 65 in 2014/15 and there was another rise in 2015/16 to 68.
In April, May and June of this year there have been a further 19 court hearings at Crawley Magistrates' Court, on Woodfield Road in Northgate, that have involved a Polish translator.
The Ministry of Justice spent £19,458 on these 183 jobs over the five financial years.
The Government department has a language services contract with Capita-TI for the provision of all forms of face-to-face, telephone and written translation across the United Kingdom, including cases in Crawley.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "It is vital that victims, witnesses and defendants understand what is happening in court proceedings to ensure justice is done.
"This government saved the taxpayer some £38 million by introducing language services contracts to replace a costly and inefficient system where interpreters were booked by individual courts."
The company which provides the language services is paid on a per-hour basis, and its pay is determined by the length of the job.
Geoff White, who owns Geoff White Solicitors in Horley, and is a regular defence solicitor at Crawley Magistrates' Court, said that from his point of view interpreters play a vital role in the justice system.
He said: "Without them it just couldn't function, we get people from all over the world coming to Crawley and because we are quite close to Gatwick, without decent interpreters we would be in an impossible position.
"When we don't have them it can delay proceedings, and it does happen from time to time when people get sent over and there are no interpreters and we simply can't talk to them.
"It puts the magistrates in a position to take their liberty away, and they have no idea what is going on when they are remanded into custody.
"A great interpreter who is good at their job is crucial to the running of proceedings and, to be honest, I don't think they are paid enough."
Other languages that feature frequently over the five financial years include Romanian (81 jobs costing £8,072), Russian (62 jobs costing £6,245), Lithuanian (58 jobs costing £5,811), Portuguese (39 jobs costing £3,432), Spanish (33 jobs costing £2,044) and Bulgarian (26 jobs costing £2,534).
At the other end of the scale, one single translation job from Dutch into English in 2013/14 cost £292, while in the same year solitary jobs interpreting Greek and Malayalam (a language spoken in India) each cost £1.
But it is understood that costs that are to the value of £1 against a job means that the job did not go ahead but a fee was applicable.
The figures seem high, but this could be because Crawley Magistrates' Court deals with cases from across Sussex, as well as neighbouring counties.
Any crimes that are alleged to have happened at Gatwick Airport or on the M23 are likely to be tried or initially heard at Crawley Magistrates' Court because it is the nearest court.
All cases, even for the most serious crimes, will initially be heard at magistrates' court before being sent to be dealt with by a crown court.
Often, a defendant may not enter a plea, but a translator will be required to explain what happens in each hearing and to explain the next stage.
An example of this was when Gabriel Lupu, a Romanian national who appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on June 23, did not enter any plea to two charges relating to the robbery and rape of a 69-year-old woman at a car park in Worthing on May 9.
Because he spoke little English an interpreter was required to translate proceedings.
On August 19 Lupu was jailed for ten years after he pleaded guilty to the charges.