10 January 2017 by Monidipa Fouzder
Government fee cut ‘led to interpreter blunder’
Professional interpreters have blamed government fee cuts for problems that have arisen in courtroom interpreting, following news that sentencing of a man who attacked two police officers with a hammer was delayed because his interpreter went to the wrong court.
The Daily Mail reported this week that an interpreter who could speak Afghan-born Jamshid Piruz’s Dari language went to a court in a different town at the wrong time, without telling anyone.
Piruz will now be sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Friday, the report states. The Mail said his case ‘exposes the Ministry of Justice’s shambolic privatisation of legal translation services’.
Leeds-headquartered international language services company thebigword, which took over from Capita Translation and Interpreting to provide courtroom interpreting in October, confirmed it was asked to provide an interpreter for the hearing.
In a statement, thebigword chief executive Larry Gould said: ‘We were asked to provide an interpreter to Lewes Crown Court for Friday 6 January at 9.30am.
‘We did so. However, the sentencing hearing was in fact scheduled to take place at Hove Crown Court at 2pm. Once we were made aware of the different venue and time, we made every possible effort to send an interpreter to Hove Crown Court. We did succeed in sourcing another interpreter but the hearing had already been adjourned.’
Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J), an umbrella group representing more than 2,000 interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, told the Gazette that problems arise when inexperienced people are used to stand in for professionals.
PI4J’s Alan Thompson said: ‘Any professional interpreter who is given a court assignment will check the location of the court, the time the case is listed and, where possible, the court number beforehand. They will also research their route to the court and the time required to reach it.
‘On arrival at the court, the first thing they will do is to report to court staff. They would never leave the building without first being released by the court.
‘The problem arises when inexperienced people are used to stand in for the professionals. They are unfamiliar with court procedure and do not know what to do. That is why blunders like this occur.’
The Gazette understands that thebigword was made aware of the different venue when the interpreter discovered the error in the morning and subsequently contacted thebigword.
A spokesperson for the MoJ said: ‘We introduced a new system for booking interpreters in 2012, as the previous system was costly and inefficient. Since this change complaints remain low and so far we have saved £48m for the taxpayer.’
However, PI4J said the ministry ‘may have saved a few pounds here by cutting the interpreter’s fee, but the ensuing chaos has cost the taxpayer thousands’.
The ministry remained tight-lipped on how many complaints have been received about interpreting services since the new language services contracts came into force.
Details of the number of complaints relating to the language services contracts appear in the ministry’s quarterly statistics. Figures relating to the latest contracts have yet to be published.