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Thursday, 30 January 2014

“Anatomy of a Disaster”: Privatisation of Court Interpreting Services

30 January 2014

“Anatomy of a Disaster”: Privatisation of Court Interpreting Services
Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, arguably one of the most important legal documents in the world, guaranteeing the right to a fair trial. That right is currently under threat in various ways in modern Britain, particularly through plans to privatise legal aid services, and the privatisation of court interpreting services, the framework agreement governing which became operational on 30 January 2012.

Monday, 27 January 2014

HoC Public Accounts Committee - 27 January 2014


HoC Public Accounts Committee - 27 January 2014

Interpreter services
 i.    Ann Beasley, Director General of Finance, Ministry of Justice, and Peter Handcock CBE, Chief Executive, Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service

Starts at 16:02:49 – ends at 16:51:43

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Government policy of cutting the cost of Justice risks denying justice for the innocent and the guilty

25 January 2014

Graphs at a glance: Government policy of cutting the cost of Justice risks denying justice for the innocent and the guilty
Being beastly to foreigners seems to be back in vogue. At least to foreigners without much money. In its pursuit of popularity the Tory Party proposed stopping printing welfare leaflets in foreign languages and stop providing translators at benefits offices for those who don't speak English.
According to an un-named 'Tory insider' quoted by the Daily Mail, "The vast majority of voters will think this idea is plain common sense. It is unreasonable to expect taxpayers to spend huge sums on translators when people should be learning to read and write English."
Maybe the Tory insider is right about voters, maybe not. Either way, denying poor foreigners their legal right to benefits by putting up a language barrier won't really affect the "vast majority of voters". On the other hand, the government's ongoing outsourcing of providing interpreters for the Justice System will. Impairing foreigners' access to good interpreters when they appear in courts and police stations will affect all of us. Those voters who care little whether an innocent foreigner gets an undeserved punishment should remember: when the innocent get punished for a crime they did not commit the guilty who did commit the crime get away to offend again.
A report by the National Audit Office in January 2014 took another look at the performance of the Ministry of Justice's attempt at outsourcing the provision of interpreters to the justice system.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Court interpreting firm Capita fined thousands

22 January 2014

Court interpreting firm Capita fined thousands
A private company which provides court interpreters in England and Wales has lost thousands of pounds in penalties for its poor performance.
Capita had £46,319 of payments withheld by the Ministry of Justice between May 2012 and November 2013, according to a report by a public spending watchdog.
Judges filed orders of £7,229 to cover the cost of translators failing to turn up, the National Audit Office added.
Capita says its performance has improved significantly since last May.
Capita took over Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which had been awarded responsibility for the interpreter service, at the start of 2012. Staff shortages at that time meant that courtroom trials were disrupted.
The National Audit Office's report said progress had been made since the end of 2012, when MPs accused Capita of causing "total chaos".
However, it warned that the company was still not meeting its target of fulfilling 98% of requests for interpreters.
The report said performance dipped at the start of 2013 because Capita reduced mileage rates paid to interpreters, resulting in a shortfall.
But after the Ministry of Justice and Capita agreed to an improved package for interpreters, more bookings were fulfilled.
In the last four months between 94% and 95% of bookings were honoured, according to the report.
The work of interpreting in courts was outsourced by the Ministry of Justice to private firm ALS in 2011, in a bid to cut costs. ALS was sold to Capita before the contract began.
Labour's Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said she was "unimpressed" that Capita was still not meeting its targets.
"This is a vital service for ensuring that people who do not speak English as a first language have fair access to justice," she added.
Conservative justice minister Shailesh Vara said that there had been "dramatic improvements over the life of the contract so far" and it had saved taxpayers £15m in its first year.
Record numbers of bookings were now being made and fulfilled, and complaint levels were very low, Mr Vara said.
But shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said: "It's a disgrace that ministers have still failed to get a grip after two years."
Capita said in a statement: "After reviewing the overall service with the MoJ and improving the terms and conditions for interpreters in May, we have seen a significant increase in fulfilment rates.
"They are now tracking to the target level of service required."

Interpreter contract still failing after two years

22 January 2014 by Catherine Baksi

Interpreter contract still failing after two years
The outsourcing giant contracted to provide court interpreting services has failed to hit its performance targets after two years, a report by the public spending watchdog reveals today.
The National Audit Office’s second report on the Ministry of Justice’s contract for language services finds that Capita has not met its 98% performance target since the contract came in to effect on 30 January 2012.
The NAO found progress has been made in implementing many of the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its damning December 2012 report. However, it says a number of areas remain where the ministry and Capita still need to improve.In line with the PAC’s recommendations, the report notes that the ministry is now performing audit checks of the security status of interpreters and on some data generated by Capita.
In addition, it says the number of interpreters available to work under the contract has increased ‘significantly’. From the start of the contract the number available has risen 102% from 1,365 to 2,705 in November 2013.
But the NAO laments that the ministry has been slow to implement some of the PAC's recommendations. A new assessment system for interpreters has not been implemented and an independent review of quality standards has not yet been performed.
The report shows the ministry has penalised Capita for its poor performance, claiming back the maximum contractually allowed after the first three months of the contract. In total the ministry reclaimed £46,139 between May 2012 and November 2013.
In addition to the financial penalties imposed by the ministry, judges have made 11 wasted costs orders totalling £7,229 against Capita.
The ministry initially estimated the contract would save £18m a year from its bill for interpreting services. It was forced to provide extra money to enable Capita to increase its rates of pay in order to secure interpreters. The ministry now estimates that the contract will save £13m in 2013-14.
The contract springs from a framework agreement signed by the MoJ in August 2011, worth an estimated £90m over five years, with a small company called Applied Language Solutions which was subsequently purchased by Capita.
The aim of the contract was to improve the efficiency of the service and to save money, but as the NAO points out, once it became operational it ‘immediately faced difficulties’.
Performance statistics published by the ministry this month show that from 30 January 2012 to 30 September 2013, Capita received 237,700 requests for interpreters.
The number of requests rose in each quarter since the start of the contract, with 23% more requests in quarter three of 2013 than in the previous year.
They show Capita fulfilled the requests for an interpreter in Q3 of 2013 in 94% of cases, up on the 87% completed in the previous quarter, but still below its 98% contractual performance target.
From 30 January 2012 to 30 September 2013, 11,100 complaints were recorded relating to completed requests - 5,700 in 2012, and 5,400 in the first three quarters of 2013. Complaints related to the lack or availability, lateness and poor performance.
Complaint volumes increased to 2,150 in Q1 2013 – a high since the contract began – before decreasing to 2,000 in Q2 2013 and again to 1,300 in Q3 2013.
The overall complaint rate decreased from a complaint relating to 6% of completed requests in Q1 2013, down to 5% of completed requests in Q2 2013 and to 3% of requests in Q3 2013.
The falling number of complaints in Q2 and Q3 2013 coincided with improvement in fulfilment rate after travel payments were increased. In the first two quarters of 2013, around 60% of complaints related to interpreters not being available.
The data also shows a fall in the number of off-contract bookings in the third quarter of 2013 compared with the second quarter, when the MoJ first collected the data.
The Gazette first flagged up concerns over the contract in February 2012. Since then it has been the subject of two reports, form the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee, criticising the contract's procurement process, performance and management.
Responding to the report, justice minister Shailesh Vara said: ‘I am pleased that the National Audit Office has recognised the significant progress made — we have seen dramatic improvements over the life of the contract so far, record numbers of bookings are now being made and fulfilled, complaint levels are very low and we continue to drive further improvement.’

Vara said: ‘It is important to remember that the new interpreting contract was introduced to tackle the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the previous system — and it has already saved taxpayers £15m in its first year.’
The chairman of the PAC Margaret Hodge said: ‘Whilst I am pleased that progress has been made on implementing many of our recommendations, I am unimpressed that over a year later, Capita are still not meeting their target of fulfilling 98% of bookings.'
Andy Slaughter MP (pictured), shadow justice minister, said: ‘It is predictable but depressing that two years after Capita took over court interpreting and translating services they’ve still not got the basics right.'
Based on this experience, Slaughter questioned how the ministry could be trusted to organise its planned contracts for prison and probation outsourcing.
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: 'The Ministry’s slow response in implementing the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee and Capita’s poor performance in delivering the interpreters contract is a cause for concern.
'Delays caused by non-attending, late or poorly trained interpreters have serious consequences for the efficiency of the whole criminal justice system and for defence solicitors in particular who already face the brunt of waste elsewhere in the system, ranging from prisoner transport failings to bad court planning.
'If a defence solicitor showed the same level of errors and failures as Capita has, their contract would have been be terminated. Is this a case of one rule for Capita and a different one for everyone else?'.