Privatisation of court interpretation services is causing problems, admits justice minister Crispin Blunt


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The Independent Online

Justice minister Crispin Blunt admitted today there had been "problems" with the recent privatisation of court interpretation services but insisted the situation was "rapidly improving".

There have been complaints from interpreters that they are facing worse pay and conditions under the new private contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS).

Since the new system began on February 1, proceedings have been held up by the failure of interpreters to turn up or demonstrate the necessary competence in court, it has been claimed.

David Evans, chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Magistrates' Association, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I've heard words like 'disaster' and 'chaos' used and I don't think they are too strong at the moment.

"The contract's been up and running now since February 1 - surely that's time for a large company to get its act together."

Mr Blunt told Today that ALS was "the best" company to apply for the contract and had since been taken over by professional services firm Capita and so had "substantial resources behind them to make sure this works".

"There have been problems with the start of the new contract, but we are replacing a system that was administratively decrepit frankly, and very expensive and very open to abuse, and so I'm satisfied that we are now rapidly improving the delivery of the new arrangements and we will get over this bedding-in period," he said.

The minister said the previous system had been "so inefficient and so decrepit" that the Ministry of Justice would make "substantial savings" under the deal, and that ALS would be held to the terms agreed.

"Obviously our contract is with ALS, ALS are then going to have to find the right market rate for supply and demand for interpreters to make the system work satisfactorily. We hold them to their contracted price with us," he said.

"I'm completely satisfied that the system was so bad before that they will actually make a proper, normal profit on this service and we will get to a place where interpreters are being much more efficiently administered, they will have much more work to do, the use of their time will be significantly improved and this will be better for interpreters and the whole of the justice system."