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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Defence solicitors warn MoJ over interpreter outsourcing

Thursday 10 March 2011 by Catherine Baksi

Defence solicitors warn MoJ over interpreter outsourcing
Criminal defence solicitors have urged the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the standard of interpreters does not deteriorate as a result of cost-cutting plans to outsource translation services across the criminal justice system.
The MoJ has begun a procurement exercise that will see private companies contracting to provide interpretation services to the Crown Prosecution Service, probation service, prisons, police and other agencies. The MoJ will provide a national template for the contracts and will oversee the process.
These services are currently provided under a national agreement with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and its sign language equivalent.
Ian Kelcey, chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said: ‘In principle, the desire to save money by outsourcing cannot be criticised… but what no one wants to see is a diminution in standards that will affect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.’ He urged the MoJ to ensure that minimum standards are put in place.
An MoJ spokeswoman said the procurement process was ‘ongoing’ and it would shortly be seeking stakeholders’ views.
Last month, solicitors raised concern over an alleged decline in the standard of interpretation services provided to detainees in custody in four north-west police areas, after the police forces outsourced their interpreting services.
The Professional Interpreters Alliance (PIA) began judicial review proceedings of police authorities in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria, which entered the contracts with translation provider Applied Language Solutions (ALS), without conducting race equality impact assessments.
The forces have now quashed the contracts with ALS, after accepting that they had failed to undertake the statutory impact assessments. A police spokesman said the forces are in consultation with PIA about how they will deliver interpretation services in future.
ALS chief executive Gavin Wheeldon denied there had been any fall in standards after his agency won the contracts. He said ALS’s contract with Greater Manchester Police had reduced its £1.3m bill for interpretation services by 50-60%, while maintaining quality and reducing police administration.
‘I believe we offer a far superior service at a fraction of the cost to the old system of engaging individual translators, which will save front-line jobs,’ he said.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Police rip up contract with interpreter agency after claims it was hampering investigations

March 07, 2011

Police rip up contract with interpreter agency after claims it was hampering investigations
Greater Manchester Police’s contract with an interpreter agency has been ripped up – after claims that it was hampering investigations. The force struck an exclusive deal with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) last August. It meant ALS, which is run by Oldham businessman Gavin Wheeldon, would supply interpreters to GMP when they were needed for interviews with suspects, victims and witnesses whose English was not good enough.
The interpreters were paid at least £30 an hour by ALS, which is based in Delph.
But hundreds of interpreters refused to work for ALS and set up a group called the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance. The group successfully applied for a judicial review of the ALS contract, and similar deals the firm had with three other north west police forces.
Now bosses from GMP and police in Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria have scrapped the deals they had with the agency before the judicial review hearing, which was due to take place next month. The PIA – whose 400 members are all on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) – had listed a series of alleged failures by the firm in the application to the High Court. They included:
  • Officers at a GMP custody suite in Pendleton complaining of ‘terrible problems’ with ALS and had been forced to turn to NRPSI-registered interpreters instead
  • Crime suspects allegedly being released by GMP on bail because they could not get interpreters from ALS in time
  • Police in Swinton having to wait 24 hours for an interpreter who could speak French
  • A petition PIA supplied to police allegedly indicated that its boycott meant there would be no NRPSI-registered members available to the officers in Polish, Czech, French, Slovak, Hungarian, Turkish, Romanian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mandarin and Cantonese
ALS strenuously denied all the allegations.
The police forces have now admitted the deals had breached the Race Relations Act, as they did not give ‘due regard’ to promoting good relations with different ethnic groups.
They also accepted they should have known there was a risk that ALS, even for a temporary period, might not be able to provide interpreters of the same quality and as quickly as under previous arrangements when GMP used freelance NRPSI-registered interpreters. Farid Arada, from PIA, said: "We are delighted." A GMP spokesman said: "GMP, Merseyside Police, Lancashire Police and Cumbria Police are currently in consultation with the PIA about how the forces will move forward and how they will deliver interpretation services in the future."
National guidelines, approved by Britain’s top cops, say interpreters used by police or the courts should be on the NRPSI to ensure high quality.
Freelance NRPSI-registered interpreters who worked directly for GMP were paid £29 an hour in the day, £43.50 on a Saturday or at night and £58 on Sundays or bank holidays.
Under ALS, the registered interpreters were told they would be paid £30 an hour in the day and £35 at night, at weekends and bank holidays.
ALS managing director Mr Wheeldon said he was disappointed with the ruling. He said: "I don't think it’s fair. I think it’s just a failure in the process." ALS strongly denied that the interpreters it sent for GMP hampered any investigations.
In response to the PIA allegations, a company spokeswoman said that no mention was ever made of the ‘terrible problems’ with ALS during the agency's monthly review meetings with GMP. She said the agency always contacted NRPSI-registered interpreters in the first instance when looking to fulfil a GMP interpreter booking.
The agency said that it did have access to NRPSI interpreters for languages like Polish, Czech, French, Slovak, Hungarian and Turkish, but the spokeswoman added: "However, these assignments do not legally need to be carried out by NRPSI registered interpreters and we have hundreds of qualified non-NRPSI interpreters registered directly with us who are able to fulfil assignments in these languages. "Many highly-qualified interpreters across the region have never been NRPSI members. "There are sometimes instances where an interpreter cannot be sourced for an assignment. This can be due to rarity of language, high demand for interpreters at that date and time or due to the remote location of a police station. "This is the case regardless of whether the police are requesting interpreting services through ALS, through NRPSI or through any independent means and is, at times, completely unavoidable. "This has been the case for many years and bears no relation on the service offered by ALS." She added that ALS was saving taxpayers’ money.

Former GMP interpreter: 'One wrong word could mean justice isn't done'

March 07, 2011

Former GMP interpreter: 'One wrong word could mean justice isn't done'
An interpreter who refused to work for the agency axed by GMP says accurate translation is essential for the criminal justice system.
Agnieszka Moczynska worked for GMP for around two years after she was accepted on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters in 2008.
But the 33-year-old Polish translator and interpreter, who lives in Eccles, Salford, said she did not want to work for the force through ALS – because of the agency’s rates and its use of non-registered interpreters.
Ms Moczynska, a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, said she feared a miscarriage of justice through using non-registered translators.
She said: "You have to be highly-qualified and trained to know how to convey a message from one language to another.
"Sometimes one word translated in the wrong way can make a dramatic difference to the outcome of a case.
"If you don’t speak English, you have to be absolutely confident in what is being conveyed to the other party when you say something, and what is being said to you is absolutely correct.
"It’s not just defendants, interpreters work for victims of crime and witnesses too. Such a witness can be a crucial element in a case against anyone – a foreign or non-foreign national.
"For example, if a Polish person has been a witness to a crime against a British person, then the interpreter will work for the victim’s benefit."