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Friday, 21 October 2011

Union fighting local firm’s interpreter deal

http://www.oldham-chronicle.co.uk/news-features/8/news-headlines/62302/union-fighting-local-firms-interpreter-deal
21 October 2011

Union fighting local firm’s interpreter deal
A Union is campaigning to stop a Government deal with a Delph firm, calling it “the privatisation of legal interpreting services”.
Earlier this year Applied Language Solutions (ALS) was awarded a government contract to provide translation services for the police and courts. But Unite, which includes the National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators (NUPIT), yesterday launched the Speak Up, Speak Out campaign at the House of Commons to call for it to be reconsidered.
Regional officer Andrew Murray said: “We fear that this is the classic cocktail of privatisation — an inferior service for vulnerable people seeking legal redress who don’t have the necessary skills in English; and a lessening of the terms and conditions for the interpreting workforce.
“We are concerned that when this agency takes over, some people will be given a second-class service because this agency will not be able to provide enough interpreters of the required level of linguistic skill and competence.
“We feel it is wrong to introduce the profit motive into our justice system. Economies made by cutting interpreters’ pay will be used to finance the running of a commercial company and will not, therefore, bring the savings that justice secretary, Ken Clarke, is seeking.”
Unite is urging interpreters and translators to lobby their MPs, saying about 2,300 interpreters will be affected by the changes.
The Chronicle recently reported how the deal with the Ministry of Justice is expected to save £18 million a year and will allow justice organisations to make a booking request which will automatically allocate the nearest interpreter with the right language skills and experience, who is security-checked and approved to work within the justice sector for the particular assignment.
But in the Commons, Manchester Withington MP John Leech said ALS, set up and run by Gavin Wheeldon, a former “Dragons’ Den” contestant, was not suitable to offer the service and urged the Government to rethink its decision.
He argued there was strong evidence to suggest outsourcing led to a lesser quality of interpreting. He claimed only 1,000 public service interpreters had signed up to ALS, saying reluctance highlighted the level of opposition due to worse pay and conditions.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

MOJ Outsourcing of Interpreting services – End of Day Adjournment Debate

20 October 2011

MOJ Outsourcing of Interpreting services – End of Day Adjournment Debate
In the last Parliament I secured a Westminster Hall Debate on plans by police forces in the North West to “outsource” their interpreting service to an agency. (By outsourcing I mean paying an agency to provide interpreters, rather than booking them direct.) There is a lot of evidence to show that such outsourcing led to a lowering of standards of interpreting, with lots of unqualified people being sent, instead of those with interpreting qualifications. The debate fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately the Government hasn’t learnt from the previous Government’s mistakes and now the Ministry of Justice has decided to put the provision of interpreting services into the hands of one company – Applied Language Solutions, who are one of a number of agencies that have come in for criticism in the past.
Last week I secured an “end of day of adjournment” and once again argued against outsourcing.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Stop interpreting in legal services being privatised, says Unite

18 October 2011

Stop interpreting in legal services being privatised, says Unite
Unite, the largest union in the country, is backing a campaign to stop the interpreting and translation services in the legal, police and probation arenas being privatised.
Unite, which embraces the National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators (NUPIT), is launching the Speak Up, Speak Out campaign in Room 8 at the House of Commons on Thursday 20 October between 12pm-2pm.
Unite is concerned that the Ministry of Justice has signed an agreement with the agency, Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which will soon be supplying interpreters for courts and tribunals. The police and probation services are expected to follow.
Unite regional officer Andrew Murray said: ”We fear that this is the classic cocktail of privatisation – an inferior service for vulnerable people seeking legal redress who don’t have the necessary skills in English; and a lessening of the terms and conditions for the interpreting workforce.
”We are concerned that when this agency takes over, some people will be given a second-class service because this agency will not be able to provide enough interpreters of the required level of linguistic skill and competence.
”We feel it is wrong to introduce the profit motive into our justice system. Economies made by cutting interpreters’ pay will be used to finance the running of a commercial company and will not, therefore, bring the savings that justice secretary, Ken Clarke, is seeking.“
Unite wants the justice ministry to reverse this privatisation policy and is calling for the interpreters and translators to lobby their MPs. There are about 2,300 interpreters who will be affected by these changes.
 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Budget cuts for translators could threaten justice for crime victims

Oct 14 2011

Budget cuts for translators could threaten justice for crime victims

Dear Editor,
I write on behalf of members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in response to your article (West Midlands Police to cut £750k from budget for translators, Post September 8).
We are concerned about the quality of service that will be provided under the new arrangements. By slashing rates of pay to interpreters, effective and experienced professionals will no longer be able to afford to carry out this vital work in the public sector, and will seek to earn a better living in other sectors.
Potentially less qualified and experienced language speakers will take on the role in sometimes highly charged and significant police matters. We fear that justice may no longer be done for victims of crime and that court cases may be thrown out due to ineffective translation and a lower quality service, at a high cost to both the taxpayer and our society.
Removing reasonable reimbursement for travel and parking expenses alongside the cuts in rates of pay and minimum period of engagement means it will not be viable for experienced translators and interpreters to continue offering their professional and trusted services, for which they currently earn on average £15,700 per year, according to our current salary survey.
Professional interpreters and translators are required to work anti-social hours and be on call at any time of day or night to attend crime scenes, hospitals, courts and police facilities. Police forces and courts have been able to rely on high calibre professionals who are listed by the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) which independently verifies their credentials and qualifications.
The Ministry of Justice is now setting aside this established approach in favour of using a single private sector provider with its own performance standards. We believe they have made this choice purely on the basis of cost, without fully considering the need for professionalism and a high skill level and the overall impact on judicial processes. We are concerned the West Midlands Police force is not prepared to pay dedicated professionals even the modest fees they have received up to now to safeguard an effective and proven service, when the stakes are so high for our society and for victims, witnesses and criminal suspects.
We note that the Metropolitan Police Force has already opted out of the new arrangement, recognising the quality of work and value for money delivered by the trusted network of NRPSI approved professionals it has always used and prioritising the needs and rights of victims of crime and the general public.
We hope that West Midlands Police will follow their lead.

Nick Rosenthal
Chairman, ITI


The £60 million question

Interpreters

The £60 million question

Questions are finally being asked in parliament about the outsourcing of language interpreting in the justice sector to a single firm, Applied Language Solutions (Eyes passim).
As the Eye went to press, Lib Dem MP John Lech was preparing to question the contract in a late evening adjournment debate.
In a letter to former home secretary Alan Johnson, who wrote to the ministry on behalf of worried interpreters, justice secretary Kenneth Clarke described the selection of ALS as “robust and rigorous”. But interpreters continue to question whether a firm so tiny it took advantage of the small companies exemption to publish abbreviated accounts last year, is capable of handling a £60m national contract.

Private Eye, issue number 1299, page 31, 14th-27th October 2011.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

PQ - 13th October 2011


13 Oct 2011
Translation Services
Justice

Sadiq Khan (Tooting, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice
(1) what changes he proposes to the National Agreement on arrangements for the use of interpreters, translators and language service professionals in investigations and proceedings within the criminal justice system;
(2) what representations he has received from organisations and individuals involved in translation and interpretation on the decision to enter into a Commercial Framework Agreement for the provision of language services in the criminal justice system;
(3) which organisations were shortlisted for the Commercial Framework Agreement to deliver language services in the criminal justice system; and what the monetary value was of their respective tenders.

Crispin Blunt (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Prisons and Probation), Justice; Reigate, Conservative)
As I announced in a written ministerial statement I made to the House on 5 July 2011, Hansard, columns 86-87WS, we are reforming the delivery of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector. This will primarily affect England and Wales. A Languages Services Framework Agreement with a single supplier was signed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on 24 August 2011. As a result, parts of the National Agreement will be dis-applied to organisations inside the MoJ framework.
The Ministry has received representations from a wide variety of individual interpreters, translators and their representative organisations throughout our consideration of this issue. We held a series of four roadshows, in autumn 2009 in London, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle, which sought attendees' views on the strengths and weaknesses of the current arrangements and how to bring about improvements. A general email address has been available since February 2010 to allow interested parties to submit views direct to the project team and ask questions.
In August 2010 various interested parties were notified of the Government's intention to embark upon a procurement process and there were meetings with some of those interested parties, including interpreters' and translators' representative bodies. The Ministry sought views on our specific proposals as they had emerged from the competitive dialogue process, which was undertaken between 30 March 2011 and 4 May 2011. We continue to receive, consider and respond to correspondence from interested parties and groups.
The procurement exercise for the Language Services Framework Agreement was undertaken via a competitive dialogue process. There were several stages to this process:
(A) A Pre-qualification Questionnaire;
(B) Invitation to submit an Outline Solution;
(C) Invitation to submit a Detailed Solution;
(D) Invitation to submit a Final Tender.
126 suppliers were invited to submit a pre-qualification questionnaire. 77 accepted the invitation and 58 fully completed one. Their responses were evaluated.
12 suppliers were invited to participate in the competitive dialogue itself, because they met the pre-qualification criteria. These were:
Applied Language Solutions
"Thebigword"
Language Line Services
K International
Computacentre
Merrill Legal
Cintra Ltd
Eclipse
Language Services Associates
Wessex Translations Ltd
Royal National Institute for Deaf People
SDL Plc.
During the competitive dialogue process only one supplier met the acceptable non-price criteria following the Invitation to Submit Detailed Solution stage of the process. Therefore, only one supplier was able to go on to be evaluated against the price criteria. That supplier was awarded the Framework Agreement.
The current value of interpretation and translation in the justice sector is between £58-65 million per year.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

MP in Commons attack on Delph interpreter service

12 October 2011

Lost in translation

MP in Commons attack on Delph interpreter service
THE Government has come under pressure to reconsider a deal with an Saddleworth company providing interpreters for police and the courts.
Earlier this year Applied Language Solutions was awarded a government contract to provide translation services, face-to-face foreign language interpreting, professional interpreting, telephone interpreting, instant telephone interpreting and language services for the deaf and blind — including British Sign Language — for the police and courts.
The deal with the Ministry of Justice is expected to save £18 million a year and will allow justice organisations to make a booking request which will automatically allocate the nearest interpreter with the right language skills and experience, who is security checked and approved to work within the justice sector for the particular assignment.
But Manchester Withington MP John Leech said Delph-based ALS, set up and run by Gavin Wheeldon, a former “Dragons Den” contestant, was not suitable to offer the service and urged the Government to rethink its decision.
Speaking in a Commons debate, Mr Leech argued there was strong evidence to suggest outsourcing led to a lesser quality of interpreting.
He said: “These proposals have not been properly thought through. The MoJ has failed to look at the evidence from outsourcing, and failed to treat all interpreters equitably.
“I hope that it is not too late for the Government to take a step back and review this decision.
“If they cannot do that, I would at the very least strongly urge the Minister closely to monitor the performance of the service, paying close attention to the delays and additional costs that will undoubtedly occur when cases are delayed as a result of a lack of an available interpreter, or when mistakes are made when under-qualified interpreters are used.”
Mr Leech told MPs that despite there being 2,300 interpreters registered with the national register of public service interpreters, only 1,000 had signed up to ALS.
He said the reluctance of people to sign up highlighted the level of opposition to the proposals which was also inevitably linked to worse pay and conditions under the company than interpreters previously received.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Parliament Debate - 10th October 2011


10 Oct 2011: Column 154
 
Interpretation Services (Ministry of Justice)
10.13 pm
Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I am delighted to have secured this end-of-day Adjournment debate on the proposed outsourcing of interpretation services by the Ministry of Justice. I wish that it had not been necessary and that the coalition Government had recognised the mistakes made by the previous Labour Government in not taking action to stop police forces around the country outsourcing interpreting services to agencies, which has resulted in a poorer level of service not only to defendants but to police forces and the criminal justice system around the country. This is not the first time that I have raised this issue in Parliament. Back in March 2009, I secured a Westminster Hall debate in response to the north-west police forces planning to outsource their interpreting services. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears; I hope that it will not do so this time.
I would like particularly to thank my constituent Marc Starr, who originally brought this issue to my attention, and Geoffrey Buckingham, the chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters, for providing me with a lot of information for the debate, and to recognise colleagues who have contacted me about this issue, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who is in his place.
A framework agreement to regulate the supply of police and court public service interpreters has been brokered by the Ministry of Justice. Its intentions are to endeavour to ensure that interpreting services to the judiciary and police are delivered to a high standard via qualified interpreters in a way intended to save about £18 million annually against the current £60 million budget. The Ministry of Justice has decided that the best way to do so is to let a contract to a single self-regulating commercial organisation that will book interpreters, individually or through agencies, to service the police and courts; determine a rate for the job; and monitor not only the quality of the interpreters’ work and need for further training and review, but its own performance. However, it is highly questionable whether this framework agreement and Applied Language Solutions, which is the agency that will provide interpreters, will be able to meet the Ministry of Justice’s requirements.
The plans introduce three tiers of interpreters, and the intention is to rank interpreters into one of three categories, with a rate of pay of £22 for tier 1, £20 for tier 2, and £16 for tier 3. Interpreters will be ranked according to their qualifications, but also subject to the agency’s own assessment, to which already fully qualified interpreters would be expected to subject themselves at their own personal cost. These rates of pay, along with severe restrictions on travel expenses and an end to travel-time payments, will result in interpreters refusing to sign up to the agency, or to take specific jobs, because of the low rates of pay. I have received evidence from one interpreter in Greater Manchester whose current net pay after travel expenses for a typical magistrates court job in Greater Manchester is £103.75 for anything up to a three-hour job, whereas under the proposed framework agreement it would be £10 for a one-hour job or £50 for a three-hour job, which equates to £4.44 per hour for one hour, rising to £11.76 per hour if the job lasts three hours.
Perhaps an even starker example is that of a Lithuanian-speaking interpreter who sometimes has to travel to Plymouth Crown court from Surrey because of a lack of qualified Lithuanian-speaking interpreters. Under the current agreement, they would receive £246.25 after travel costs for the 11.5-hour return trip. Under the new framework agreement, this would be minus £65.10 after travel costs. Does the Minister seriously think that that is acceptable, and does he really think that this will be an incentive to accept that particular job?

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): I assure my hon. Friend that the worries that he has outlined are shared by interpreters in Wales, whose concern is not so much the finance but the fact that the service is going to deteriorate because of the quality of interpreters who will work at these rates.

Mr Leech: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. That is a common issue that has been raised with me by interpreters around the country, in England and in Wales.
When one adds in the additional disincentives of no pension, holiday pay or sick pay, as well as no job security and no increase in interpreters’ rate of pay since 2007, it is unthinkable to assume that these proposed rates of pay and costs are suitable. It also seems perverse that the new framework agreement encourages the use of an interpreter’s car rather than public transport. Currently, standard-class fares are reimbursed in full, while the car mileage rate is 25p a mile. A higher rate of 45p a mile, which is more in line with the true cost of running a car per mile, along with parking costs, is payable only if the interpreter can show that there was no public transport option. However, under the new arrangements all calculations will be based on the use of a personal car and public transport costs will not be covered—not much of an incentive for interpreters to reduce their carbon emissions and travel on public transport.
One of the stated aims of the framework agreement is increasing the number of suitably qualified and vetted interpreters to meet the demand. There are currently around 2,300 interpreters registered with the national register of public service interpreters. Applied Language Solutions claims that 1,000 linguists have signed up to its Linguist Lounge recruitment website. That means a cut of around 1,300 qualified interpreters available to the courts system, assuming that all 1,000 are NRPSI-qualified. If they are not, the cut in qualified interpreters will be even greater. The failure of ALS to reach agreement with at least 1,300 qualified interpreters shows the level of opposition to the proposals, in spite of evidence to suggest that ALS has sought to pressurise interpreters into signing up, with thinly veiled threats that the registration is closing soon. Does the Minister think that that is appropriate behaviour for a company purporting to implement the legal interpreting and translation register, which surely must be consistently open to applicants as a public resource?
Does the Minister also think that closing the list when more than half the NRPSI-qualified interpreters have refused to sign up will increase the availability of suitably qualified and vetted interpreters? Of course, it will not. We should look at the evidence from where outsourcing has already taken place and at its impact on the quality and availability of interpreters. The Ministry of Justice claimed on 6 July that “collaborative authorities” had “concerns that NRPSI registration does not necessarily guarantee quality. The evidence for this is anecdotal, but has been consistent enough to warrant action.”
I would prefer to rely on hard evidence, and there is significant evidence that the outsourcing of interpreting services by police forces has resulted in the use of unqualified interpreters.
When Cheshire constabulary outsourced to ALS, only 34% of the interpreters provided by ALS were on the NRPSI. In Lincolnshire, outsourcing led to a reduction of registered interpreters from 68% to less than 30%. Where outsourcing has taken place there has been a significant reduction in the number of registered interpreters being used—clear evidence that the quality and availability of interpreters is reduced.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my constituent Svetlana Clark who is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and a public service interpreter on the national register, that the potential cost to the judiciary of adjournments, mistrials, appeals and failed prosecutions as a result of inadequate interpreting cannot be overestimated and does not serve the interests of justice?

Mr Leech: I do agree with the hon. Lady’s constituent. There is lots of evidence to suggest that where unqualified interpreters have been used there have been delays in police and court action, resulting in additional costs. I have been handed pages and pages of examples of unqualified interpreters being sent to police stations and courts by agencies, or interpreters proficient in the wrong language. One example that made it into Private Eye was ALS providing a Czech-speaking interpreter for a Slovak-speaking suspect. ALS’s explanation was that “it is fair to say that most people from Slovakia essentially speak Czech.” Is this really the sort of organisation that we want in charge of ensuring that justice is done?
Other questions have been raised about the suitability of ALS to fulfil the role. The Minister has already assured me that the Department’s procurement specialists were satisfied by the company’s stability and probity, but the fact remains that more than 50% of qualified interpreters do not and will not work for it. The company has been found to be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 on three occasions since 2007. Can the Minister assure me that potentially highly sensitive data are safe and that is it appropriate for them to be handled in non-UK call centres?
Finally, will the Minister explain why foreign-language-speaking interpreters are being treated differently from British sign language interpreters, who will retain their existing terms and conditions? Surely that contravenes sections 13 and 19 of the Equality Act 2010, by providing less favourable terms to foreign-language interpreters? The Ministry of Justice also intends effectively to re-test foreign-language interpreters, but not British sign language interpreters. Surely it is a contradiction that the Ministry accepts BSL qualifications as valid but rejects foreign-language interpreters, even though they have the same level of accredited qualification.
These proposals have not been properly thought through. The MOJ has failed to look at the evidence from outsourcing, and failed to treat all interpreters equitably. I hope that it is not too late for the Government to take a step back and review this decision. If they cannot do that, I would at the very least strongly urge the Minister closely to monitor the performance of the service, paying close attention to the delays and additional costs that will undoubtedly occur when cases are delayed as a result of a lack of an available interpreter, or when mistakes are made when under-qualified interpreters are used.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) for raising the important issue of the outsourcing of interpretation services by the Ministry of Justice. I want to raise the case of a local company, Sign Solutions, which is based in my constituency and which specialises in interpretation services for British sign language. It was formed in 1998, following the retrial of the case of R v. Smith, Smith and Sams. This murder trial had been running in the Old Bailey for seven weeks using an unskilled, unqualified BSL interpreter. The interpreter errors eventually became so great that the judge had to stop the trial.
My constituent Sean Nicholson and his friend Gloria Ogborn were interpreters of known expertise, and they were approached by the Ministry of Justice to undertake the retrial. Their company, Sign Solutions, went on successfully to tender for civil and family court work for more than 10 years. Since then, it has helped to streamline interpreting services, and introduced cost savings by reducing the number of interpreters booked for cancelled hearings and supplying the right number of interpreters for each case. It has also suggested cost-saving ideas to the MOJ, such as using a web-based video system that could cut pricing by up to 50% without compromising quality. Sign Solutions is an award-winning national vocational qualification centre that offers post-qualification training in police and court work. It employs apprentices who are training to become the next generation of BSL legal interpreters. Its services encompass all languages and telephone interpreting, in order to be able to compete for one-service tenders.
During the recent MOJ tender process, Sign Solutions was rejected on the basis of having insufficient turnover, despite being one of the most experienced BSL court interpreters in the country, with more than 12 qualified interpreters in house, four of whom have more than 20 years of legal experience each. Small and medium-sized enterprises such as Sign Solutions are just the kind of business that this Government are committed to supporting, so may I ask the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to look carefully at the MOJ procurement process, to see how a more level playing field could be created so that companies such as Sign Solutions have a better chance of winning Government business?


(starts at 10:13 pm)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Interpreters on the cheap could lead to miscarriages of justice

6 October 2011

Interpreters on the cheap could lead to miscarriages of justice

Matthew Scott

Anyone who watched Amanda Knox's powerful closing speech was struck by her ability to persuade her jury in fluent Italian, the product no doubt of four years education in an Italian jail. It may be no coincidence that her Italian was very much less accomplished when she was first arrested and convicted, amid claims that her retracted confession was made under duress.
A suspect arrested and investigated in a foreign country needs a good interpreter and translator just as much as she needs a good lawyer.
In 2007 Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, a former Egyptian army officer alleged to be one of the masterminds of the 2007 Madrid train bombers, was acquitted after he successfully argued that translations from Arabic of his wire-tapped conversations were inaccurate.
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires that every defendant should "have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot speak the language used in court". Victims and witnesses should, of course, be afforded equal consideration.
Many in Britain fear that the result of a little-publicised change in the way police and court interpreters are to be engaged will dramatically increase the scope for miscarriages of justice and unfairness to victims of crime, as well as lengthening trials. It could ultimately lead to the Government being dragged before the European Court of Human Rights.
Both the 1993 Runciman report and the 2001 Auld report into the criminal justice system emphasised the importance to the justice system of properly qualified and remunerated court interpreters.
Following these recommendations the courts and the police have, save in exceptional cases, obtained interpreters and translators from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). All its members are qualified, at the very least by long experience, and most possess at least a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting or equivalent qualification. All are security vetted.
Membership of the register is regarded as a mark at the very least of competence, and in many cases of excellence. Interpreting fees (which have not increased since 2006) are paid by the Courts Service and are not particularly high. At present, an interpreter is entitled to a minimum payment of £85 to cover the first three hours of interpreting. Thereafter he or she is paid at £30 per hour. Travel time is paid at a lesser rate and reasonable travel expenses are paid. The profession is highly competitive but good interpreters are able to make a reasonable living.
There may be a perception that interpreting fees are out of control, but the figures suggest otherwise. The total spent by the Courts Service on interpreters fell by 13 per cent from £49.2 million in 2009–10 to £47.2 million in 2010–11, while the Met's expenditure on interpreting and translation services has declined steadily from £10,541,000 in 2007-08 to £8,829,552 in 2010-11.
Nevertheless, if the Ministry of Justice has its way it is a system that is about to change. In August the ministry awarded a four-year contract worth £300,000,000 to Applied Language Solutions, an Oldham-based company set up and run by Gavin Wheeldon, 34, a former Dragons Den contestant.
The plan is that, from this month, instead of each court or police officer contacting a member of the NRPSI when an interpreter is required, they will instead contact ALS, which will engage its own interpreters, paying them a lower hourly rate and, crucially paying no minimum fee and no travel expenses. The hope is that the savings will be passed on to the Government.
It is in some ways surprising that the ministry is pushing ahead with the scheme given that a pilot scheme involving ALS and Greater Manchester Police collapsed this year amid mutual recriminations and the threat of legal action by the Professional Interpreters Alliance.
Other critics point to a similar scheme in Scotland where interpreting expenditure actually increased after it was introduced.
Many NRPSI-registered professional interpreters are angry. Hundreds are refusing to sign up with ALS and there is a real fear in the courts that interpreting standards will drop as a result.
ALS claims that this will not happen because it will require all its interpreters to pass a test run by "independent assessors" from Middlesex University. Candidates (who will have to pay £100 to take the test) will then be graded into three tiers. There will be no requirement for any of them to have any other professional qualifications or experience, leading many to fear that the only way ALS will be able to supply interpreters will be by employing unqualified and inexperienced staff who will earn (after deducting travel costs and waiting time) little more, and on some assignments considerably less, than the minimum wage.
Questions are also being asked about the independence of Middlesex University and its involvement with ALS. Far from being a disinterested assessor, the university is described on the ALS website as a "partner". The criteria that the university assessors will use, and the identity of the assessors, has not been made public, leading many to claim that far from trying to maintain standards the university will actually have an interest only in ensuring that ALS has a sufficient number of interpreters available to work for ALS for rock-bottom fees.
Understandably the Professional Interpreters Alliance has again threatened to bring judicial review proceedings against the Government and it may be that the contract will collapse ignominiously like that with Greater Manchester Police. If it does not do so then the courts may have to prepare themselves for a shortage of quality interpreters and the miscarriages of justice that will follow.

The author is a barrister at 3 Pump Court, Temple.