19 Feb 2018
‘Privatised service impeding justice’
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon has criticised the “ideologically driven” privatisation of the court interpreting service which he claims could lead to justice being denied for the victims and the accused.
Mr Burgon’s spokesman said official figures revealed that more than 3,200 magistrates and crown court trials have been adjourned since the privatisation of the court interpreting service in January 2012 due to the lack of an interpreter.
However, a spokesman for Leeds-based thebigword, which supplies interpreters for court cases, said it was misleading to claim that interpreting services in courts and tribunals were not functioning properly.
A spokesman for Mr Burgon said that the number of complaints in the first 12 months of the new contract for court interpreting services was 2,339, which is an increase on the 1,733 complaints made in the last year of the old contract.
The Ministry of Justice contract for providing interpreters for court and tribunal services has been held by thebigword since 2016. It was held by Capita from 2012 to 2016.
Mr Burgon said: “A failure to ensure a properly functioning interpretation service seriously risks justice being denied for victims and those accused.
“It is a worrying sign of ongoing failure that complaints are up in the first 12 months since the new contract was awarded, compared to a year earlier.
“The Government must take swift action to put an end to the flaws in this system that mean almost half of all these complaints are for things as basic as an interpreter not attending court or not being available.
“The Government needs to explain how it is so sure that its contracts are cost effective when it revealed, in response to my Parliamentary questions, that it doesn’t even hold the basic information on the wider costs to our justice system of thousands of cases each year that need an interpreter not being fulfilled.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We have strong contract management in place, and our most recent statistics show that 98 per cent of interpreter bookings are fulfilled, and complaints are at one per cent.
“It is vital that victims, witnesses and defendants understand what is happening in court to ensure justice is done, and we will always take steps to make sure a qualified interpreter is provided when needed.”
The spokesman added that, while the Ministry of Justice accepts that any delayed hearing due to a lack of interpretation is unacceptable, such instances are few.
The most recent published statistics for ineffective trial rates, which covers the third quarter of 2017, show a lack of interpreter availability was the reason for 0.3 per cent of trials being ineffective in the magistrates’ court, and 0.1 per cent of crown court trials, the spokeswoman said.