Campaign group Interpreters for Justice asks ‘who foots the bill?’ for 3,833 unfulfilled requests for interpreters which Applied Language Solutions (ALS) failed to supply during the first three months of their contract, which was awarded by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). It also questions why an independent body has not been appointed to review the contractor’s performance.
The MoJ published its first report on the contractor’s performance on 24 May and states an 81% success rate by ALS in fulfilling requests during the first three months of the contract (30 January – 30 April 2012). Terms of the Framework Agreement with ALS states a 98% fulfilment should be achieved. Of the 81% (18,719) completed requests, 11.9% (2,232) resulted in complaints.
Interpreters for Justice, which represents the Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI) and the Association of Police & Court Interpreters (APCI), says many questions remain unanswered and it received no replies to the letters it sent on 27 March to the Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke and to the Minister for Justice, Crispin Blunt, setting out the breaches being made by ALS to the terms of its contract.
Willie Makin, Chairman, SPSI, says: “The Ministry of Justice should be answering questions about how it is addressing the many breaches to the Framework Agreement which have been made by its private contractor ALS. Also how much the 3,833 unfulfilled requests for interpreters in the first three months will be costing the taxpayer because courts up and down the land have been disrupted. There is no transparency in how this private contract is managed.”
No baseline information has been gathered by the Ministry of Justice on which to judge ALS’ performance. The report says (page 3) ‘it is impossible to say whether performance levels since 30 January are higher, lower or similar to those under previous arrangements’.
The campaign group also calls into question the numbers of interpreters’ requests which the official bulletin includes in its statistics. This averages 2,004 per week over 13 weeks to make the 26,059 requests. It believes a mixed economy has developed where many bookings are being made by HM Courts & Tribunals Service direct with interpreters and via other agencies.
Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman, APCI, says: “The failure rate is undoubtedly much higher but the MoJ should also be looking at the wider picture of the quality of interpreting because we ourselves are collecting daily examples where unqualified and inexperienced interpreters sent by ALS are causing confusion and distress which is contrary to basic laws of human rights. The judiciary itself admits this is tarnishing the reputation of the British justice system.”
Margaret Hodge MP, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, has said she will forward her concerns to the National Audit Office, asking them to look into the Framework Agreement (FWA) from a value for money perspective. The Justice Select Committee has also stated it is likely to enquire into the matter.
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Notes to Editors
"The contract began less than two months ago, we are fulfilling the vast majority of bookings (nearly 3,000 a week) and have 2,000 experienced and qualified linguists actively working within the system. More interpreters are signing up daily."
Interpreters for Justice
Interpreters for Justice is united against the MoJ’s Framework Agreement for the provision of public service interpreting and was formed by the APCI and SPSI in order to represent the views of their members, all of whom are committed to upholding the quality and professionalism of public service interpreting in the UK.
Results of a survey commissioned by Interpreters for Justice (supported by APCI and SPSI) and carried out by consultancy Involvis, showed 90% of respondents, representing 51% of the 2,340 interpreters registered with the NRPSI (National Register of Public Service Interpreters) have not and will not register for the new system administered by Applied Language Solutions (ALS).
Just (6%) or 71 of the 1,206 interpreters who completed the survey said they had decided to undergo the assessment put in place by Applied Language Solutions (ALS). Of these, 93.5% said the assessment was ‘flawed’, ‘unprofessional’ and ‘humiliating’ and the majority will not continue with ALS.
Gavin Wheeldon requested they join a ‘representative panel’ but only on condition they ‘call a halt to the boycotts.’ All interpreters’ bodies have rejected the idea of the panel, preferring to speak to the Ministry of Justice direct.
Interpreters for Justice (APCI and SPSI) have set out terms for talks with the Ministry of Justice as follows:
The Framework Agreement must be scrapped and the contract with ALS must be stopped because the terms of the agreement have been breached.
A timetable of 24 months is proposed in order to develop a lawful and more efficient system. This must be developed using open and transparent consultation with interpreters’ organisations and other stakeholders.
Use of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), which was previously used and which comprises a list of professionally qualified interpreters, should be re-instated as an interim measure.
Interesting background articles:
London Advocate is the newsletter of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and illustrates growing opposition to the ALS contract: http://www.lccsa.org.uk/assets/documents/advocate/london%20advocate%20issue%2069.pdf
Law Society Gazette (24 May)
Law Society Gazette (17 May)
A dossier is attached with recent examples of court issues with ALS booked interpreters.