Plan to cut spending on court interpreters leads to farce

Rethink prompted after solicitors resort to Google Translate to understand their clients

A defendant dubbed a "pervert" by mistake, a rabbit applying to be a Czech language specialist and solicitors using the Google Translate website to understand their clients: the debacle surrounding court interpreters has had its amusing moments.

Now the situation has apparently become so serious that both the Commons Justice Select Committee and the National Audit Office have confirmed that they may investigate the new private contract.

In February, the Ministry of Justice decided to replace the ad hoc system under which interpreters were hired as and when needed. They hoped a single private contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) would slash the £60m annual bill by a third.

The decision led to a boycott by many interpreters, outraged at what they described as "woefully inadequate" wages from ALS, which is owned by the support services company Capita. The result has been a host of adjourned trials and some that have collapsed. A retrial was ordered three days into a burglary case at Snaresbrook Crown Court in east London when it emerged that the Romanian interpreter had muddled the words "beaten" and "bitten".

Judge David Radford, who presides at Snaresbrook, said recently that some cases had been "badly affected".

In April, the barrister Andrew Dallas said it might be quicker for him to learn Czech when an interpreter failed to turn up at Bradford Crown Court to translate for his client, who was accused of attempted murder.

In another case, a Vietnamese translator was told to make a 560-mile round-trip from Newcastle for an eight-minute hearing at South-East Suffolk Magistrates' Court. Solicitors at the court in Ipswich complained that they were sometimes forced to use the internet to translate.

Neil Saunders, who was defending a Vietnamese client accused of growing cannabis, said no translator turned up at four previous hearings. "Farcical is not the right word. It's actually a tragedy," he said.

In other examples, a man charged with perverting justice was told he was "a pervert", while a volunteer had to be pulled from the public gallery to translate for a Slovak defendant. To make a point, a Czech interpreter, Marie Adamova, applied to register her rabbit, Jajo, with ALS. He was promptly sent a dozen emails by the company.

Last week, the National Register of Public Service Interpreters told the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke: "The concerns we referred to in February have not gone away. Indeed, the position now appears to be worsening almost daily, to the detriment of both professional interpreters and, equally importantly in our view, to the efficient and fair administration of public service across most of the justice sector."

A spokesman for ALS said yesterday: "ALS is happy to co-operate fully with any review though has not, to date, been approached on that basis by any of the bodies mentioned."

The Ministry of Justice insisted: "We have now seen a sustained improvement in performance. There are now only a tiny handful of cases each day when an interpreter job is unfilled.

"Disruption to court business and complaints have reduced significantly. Close to 3,000 interpreters are now working under this contract."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders