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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there