“Interpretation services are vital for ensuring fair access to justice. Yet when the Ministry of Justice set out to establish a new centralised system for supplying interpreters to the justice system, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
The Ministry awarded the contract to a company, ALS, that was clearly incapable of delivering. The Ministry had been warned that ALS was too small to shoulder a contract worth more than £1 million, but went ahead and handed them an annual £42 million contract covering the whole country.
The Ministry did not understand its own basic requirements, such as how many interpreters it needed or in what languages.
And it ignored the views of interpreters, who were clear that they had serious concerns about the contract and were adamant that they would not work for ALS.
Capita took over ALS in late 2011. They had no hope of recruiting enough qualified interpreters in time to start the service. The Ministry needed access to 1,200 interpreters when the contract went live; the company had only 280 properly assessed interpreters willing to work for it.
Matters became even worse when the Ministry decided that the new service would go live nationally in one go. Many of the ‘interpreters’ it thought were available had simply registered an interest on the company’s website and had been subject to no official checks that they had the required skills and experience. Indeed, we heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog.
As a result, the company was able to meet only 58% of bookings against a target of 98%.
The result was total chaos. Court officials have had to scramble to find qualified interpreters at short notice; there has been a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling.
Despite this, the Ministry has only penalized the supplier a risible £2,200.
This is an object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service.”