How to save money on Court Interpreters: Don’t book them

We are approaching the end of April, the time at which the contract between ALS and the MoJ for provision of interpreting and translation is due to be reviewed. To mark this occasion the spoken language interpreters have organised another London demo.

Without monitoring information being made public we do not know the real effect of this framework agreement. In fact neither do ministers. A recent question in the House of Commons to the Attorney General highlighted this problem. When asked what the cost was of delays and adjournments due to late or non-attendance of interpreters the answer was the cost of collecting data would be disproportionate.

This lack of centralised data is, of course, why the contract was awarded and why savings are not materialising in the way they should have been. The figures the government have used were based on estimates and extrapolations. The result has been an unworkable agreement and a refusal by NRPSIs to work under the contract. Interpreters are being sent miles to work (the promise was interpreters would come from a 25 miles radius, the reality is up to a 564 round trip, 366 miles, you can find many more examples on LinguistLounge.org). And the personnel are not necessarily, also as promised, qualified interpreters either but anyone who says they can speak another language with speakers being sourced from the streets outside of court, pizza delivery boys and Google Translate being used in emergencies.

The more worrying trend is that due to this debacle courts have just given up trying to book an interpreter. An irony as the new system was supposed to make it all easier. A Sign Language Interpreter sent in this experience:

‘I attended a Crown Court the other day having been booked by the defence. I have already, last month, been to a family court where I was the only interpreter booked when there should have been four and had strong suspicions that there would be no court interpreter present.

On arriving in Crown Court I discovered quickly there were indeed no court interpreters and I was expected to interpret all consultations outside of court for the defence as well as the court proceedings. In my previous experience the court books interpreters and for a pre-sentencing hearing such as this a court interpreter can interpret consultations for defence too or there would be two interpreters present, especially for a difficult case such as the one I was there to do. After five hours of interpreting inside and outside of court the defendant was sentenced. The judge addressed the defence Barrister and thanked him for the use of his interpreter and explained to the court that since the new contract had come into force the court was finding it was nearly impossible to get an interpreter through this new system. The judge then thanked me for my hard work and left the court.’

With the three month review period approaching and a government who is only concerned about cutting costs it would not be surprising if the MoJ states how the new framework has saved them rather a lot of money:

– When interpreters are booked by Counsel, rather than by the courts, the cost is covered by Legal Aid. These are still funds from the public purse but as the costs will not show up under the framework agreement the MoJ will assume they are spending less.

– When court cases go ahead with Google Translate there is no cost to the public purse. But unlikely a fair and just result will occur.

– When speakers of other languages are dragged in off the street, are they paid? Probably not.

– When adjournments and delays occur there is great cost to the public purse. As these are not centrally recorded there will be only anecdotal and no statistical evidence. And, again, they will not be reflected as costs under the framework agreement.

– There are reports that the booking system which is supposed to provide a one-stop shop is not working and courts can barely get through to talk to someone. Oh and the call centres are in various parts of the world where they do not understand geographical distances. If courts can not use a system to book an interpreter the MoJ, again, saves money.

In reality this framework agreement maybe appearing to save the MoJ costs but this is unlikely to be the case. Instead of making interpreter bookings more efficient it has made more work for court staff, reduced efficiencies for court personnel including barristers and judges and has taken away good quality access by trained and registered interpreters in favour of a hodge-podge of workarounds when a qualified interpreter is not sourced. Which is more frequently than not. No, this framework agreement is surely saving the MoJ money. They are no longer booking Court Interpreters.

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13 thoughts on “How to save money on Court Interpreters: Don’t book them

  1. [the new system] has taken away good quality access by trained and registered interpreters – erm, not quite. The self-proclaimed superior interpreters have opted out of the system. Slight difference.

    • Rohan, if it’s semantics you’re after – yes, we have chosen not to associate ourselves with this tinpot operation that blagged its way to the MoJ contract by vastly overselling its capabilities, which is frankly a disgrace and is now severely impeding the due process of justice in this country. Have you been to a court recently and watched as the poor defendant doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on because ALS has sent someone who has no training or experience in court interpreting? Are you an interpreter, and if so are you happy to be an accomplice to this?? I am not proclaiming myself as ‘superior’ by anyone’s standards, but I have too much pride in myself and my profession to be a part of this ALS/MOJ circus.

  2. Not really. We won’t work for peanuts, and getting work in other fields. ALS fakes often can’t even read the oath…how long before they start getting prosecuted for contempt? I guess you work for Gav, though how long for depends on how long before he wants a new Porsche…he has form for sacking people and spending their pay on toys. And the big word is after your work now…will Capita keep funding the tens of thousands ALS lose every week? I’d look for another job if I were you.

  3. Dear Rohan if you’re pizza house will reduce delivery drivers pay to 1 pound an hour you will be forced to get of the sofa and fetch it yourself. Rightly so the delivery driver would have opt out as his family cannot survive. There is no difference it’s pure economics.

  4. Yes, I do work for ALS. I work for the bigword too. And for the language line, language is everything, and whatever other agency is willing to pay me for my interpreting services. What is wrong with it? I am an interpreter. My job is to interpret. If you have chosen not to interpret any more because you do not like the contractor, that is your right. Just don’t force the view on the rest of the profession that yours is the only right way. Righteousness is never appreciated. It is you who are now an embarrassment to the profession. You come across as bitter for having your fees slashed by half, but you must realise you cannot possibly hope to gain public sympathy to your ‘plight’. The arrogance does not help either.

    • Mr Smug, I assure you that you will not feel so canny working for this framework agreement if it wasn’t for the boycott of hundreds of RPSIs by virtue of which there are more jobs available for renegades like yourself and the rates of payment are higher than the ones advertised initially due to pressure to keep interpreters interested.

      For the sake of argument, if the RPSIs currently boycotting decide to work for the contractor your number of jobs will go down, so will the rates you are getting now. The point is that this framework agreement is not in the interest of the professional interpreters in the long run. Only opportunist fail to see that.

  5. @Rohan Mulcany Clearly you neither value your own skills nor those of colleagues if you are willing to work for those rates and be associated with such unethical opertors. We can put the rates issue to one side. The question is one of being ethical and principled about professional standards and the delivery of Equal Access to Justice for non-English Speakers. It’s not ‘our plight’, it is about basic Human Rights. As for the arrogance you perceive – those of us who are on the side of Justice can afford to be arrogant about it, because we are right.

  6. ‘As for the arrogance you perceive – those of us who are on the side of Justice can afford to be arrogant about it, because we are right’ – a true gem! Proves my point better than I ever could.
    In the meantime, your numbers are shrinking, and very soon the only ones left standing amongst you will be
    i). those of you who have missed their vocation as trade union leaders
    ii). those of you who stand to lose the most financially.

    But then again these are likely be the same people.

  7. Pingback: What will it take? How about a collapsed trial? | DeafFirefly's Blog

  8. Pingback: How to save money on Court Interpreters: Don't book them ... | On Interpreting | Scoop.it

  9. Rohan Mulcany, your comments betray your lack of understanding of your own profession. That’s the way it is. Can’t argue with that. I suggest you read up, laddie.

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