Annex: e-consultation |
The Committee set up a web forum
entitled the Court Language Services Forum in support of its inquiry
into Interpreting and Translation services and the Applied Language
Solutions contract. The purpose of the online forum was to encourage
contributions from current interpreters providing services for
ALS; the interpreting community in general; court and tribunal
service staff; legal practitioners; members of the judiciary and
magistracy; and defendants who have used ALS services. The Committee
felt that due to the nature of the inquiry, some stakeholders
would be reticent to provide formal written evidence and an online
forum would provide greater scope for reflection on the provision
of interpretation in the court and tribunal services by ALS. Following
this, as in other e-consultations exercised by Select Committees,
users were invited to give anonymous contributions to enable the
fullest disclosure of experience.
The forum opened on the 17 October
2012 and ran until 5 November 2012.
The site was designed and created
by the Parliamentary web-centre. During the registration process,
users agreed to a set of discussion rules. The forum was moderated
by Justice Committee staff- messages were checked to ensure that
they adhered to the discussion rules before they were published
on the forum. Posts that were moderated included a note drawing
forum users to the attention of the fact that it had been amended.
Contributions to the forum were
used by members of the Committee to inform their questioning of
the witnesses who attended hearings as the inquiry progressed
as well as during the process of drafting and agreeing a report.
The forum was announced by the Committee via a press
note which was sent to a number of organisations including Law
Society Gazette; National Register of Public Service Interpreters
NRPSI; Association of Police and Court Interpreters; Society for
Public Service Interpreting; Institute of Translation and Interpreting;
Professional Interpreters Alliance; Chartered Institute of Linguists;
Capita; Ministry of Justice; PCS Union; UNITE; UNISON Police and
Justice Service Group; Prison Officers Association; Individual
courts; Magistrates Association; HM Council of Circuit Judges;
Law Society; Bar Associations; Guardian. The e-consultation was
advertised on the UK Parliament website as well as their twitter
feed. Stakeholders and various organisations shared a link to
the e-consultation forum on social media, particularly Twitter.
The web forum posed the following
Q 1 What are your experiences of
ALS service provision?
Q 2 What are your vies of efficacy
of steps taken to rectify under performance?
Q 3 What are your experiences of
the complaints resolution service?
Profile of respondents
The e-consultation received a total
of 4195 views and 88 distinct users posted on the forum. The question
relating to ALS service provision received 65 posts; steps taken
to rectify under performance received 19; and experiences of the
complaints resolution service received 10 posts. 21 respondents
identified themselves as interpreters providing services on behalf
of ALS; 14 as legal practitioners or other practitioners; 1 defendant
in a criminal case or party in civil and family cases; 45 as others;
7 would rather not say.
Summary of responses
Distance travelled by interpreters
Interpreters have reported that
ALS has asked them to travel long distance to attend court and
tribunal sessions, often the other side of the country.
I try to tell it on every forum
that this is what ALS/Capita doing. I talked to an interpreter
who has no DPSI qualification, lives in [Scottish town] and is
regularly sent to all parts of England. One day to Cornwall, another
day to Bradford. And he feels extremely proud of himself what
an important person he is! I live in [Scottish town]. I used to
be the only person in my language who worked for the Tribunal
Services in Scotland. I used to get one-two jobs per month. Since
ALS got the contract they give all the jobs to people living in
England. I talked to somebody who had a tribunal case in [Scottish
town]. Her interpreter who had no qualification and worked for
ALS came from Birmingham.
90% of the work ALS offers me requires
me to travel 100-400 miles each way. Usually for a 09:30 appearance,
which means I would leave for a job at around 04:00 AM. Travelling
at this time for this distance, and not being even paid for the
first hour each way is not tenable, and impacts on your alertness.
They report that this is not due
to lack of interpreters in the area, but that those more conveniently
located refuse to work for ALS.
There were so many jobs in London
and in the southeast of London without interpreter in my language;
I live in the North Midlands which is very far from London, but
because it is urgent, they were happy to pay me in my terms and
condition, plus a train fare which is a fortune for buying a return
train fare on the day to southeast of London. I felt it is like
a joke as I know there are so many NRPSI in my language living
in London but they all refused to work for ALS. The MOJ would
save a fortune for taxpayer if using the old system, instead of
Interpreters, who used to work within
a small radius of their local courts, only occasionally having
to travel further afield, are now seldom offered assignments in
these courts, but rather offered work in other parts of the country.
The travel expenses are a waste of public money and if an interpreter
has to travel 4 hours each way to a job that may only be for an
hour, that means that they are unable to accept another job for
the afternoon, as they would not have time to get to it. An interpreter
cannot live on this. Are the interpreters who are servicing the
local courts of that interpreter actually themselves too coming
from a different part of the country?
Perverse incentives and pay
To some extent, interpreters have
attributed long distance travel to a pay structure which incentivises
accepting only cases which are further away.
I should stress that it only makes
financial sense for me to accept bookings for assignments I have
to travel to over 100 miles. It does not make sense to accept
even longer bookings (i.e. trials) as if they do not last as long
as they were supposed to, interpreters are not paid any cancellation
fees (but have to make themselves available for the whole length
of the trial/refuse other work due to that commitment). We spend
most of our time driving/travelling to the venues which must affect
our performance. 
Others disagree, saying that for
them the uncertainty of a day's work means that they cannot afford
to travel long distances for short term work.
Capita often ask me to work a long
distance from home and at short notice but I never accept. Travel
means such assignments take up an entire day and Capita are unable
to offer me what I earn from a day on other projects. They would
get closer if they guaranteed more than an hour's pay for long
distance assignments, paid travel costs and travel time in full,
and paid for accommodation when they want an interpreter to travel
several hundred miles and appear at 10am. A change here appears
essential since Capita stated in evidence to the Justice Committee
they will never meet the KPI committing them to find an interpreter
within 25 miles of the client for 95% of assignments.
Despite ALS's willingness to cover
large travel expenses, some have reported strict regulation on
the time spent working by interpreters.
I have been told by the company
that if I agree to interpret for counsel/probation/ anyone else
outside of the courtroom, it is 'in my own time' and I will not
be paid for it! How can the system function?! Time down in the
cells with a defendant to explain after the decision what the
next steps are, appeal etc. or outside the courtroom by probation
officers is not factored in, and interpreters are expected to
try and persuade the court clerk to sign them off at a different
time from when the case finishes. Court clerks, it is clear, are
under strict instructions from ALS/Capita to sign only to when
the case ended.
Some have reported that poor levels
of pay are undermining a profession in which years of training
We need to understand how long it
takes to learn a foreign language to a certain standard, in order
to be able to interpret from and into it within a specific sector.
First of all it takes decades to learn the language itself and
later you need to obtain a specific set of skills that are required
in order to interpret. You need to be able to translate legal
terminology within seconds during a court session and sometimes
it is very difficult even for the best interpreters out there.
You need to take into account that it is a job that requires due
diligence, great listening and verbal skills, ability to transfer
a vast amount of information that is encrypted in a different
language within a short time frame.
Let's look at what is happening
now. "Capita" are trying to obtain these sets of skills
at a fraction of the price they were provided before. How can
you expect to have any self respecting specialist to work for
the amounts they are offering? £20 per hour, it would be
a great salary if you would be working a full 40 hours week. It
would amount to £41,600 per year before tax. In my opinion
that would be right remuneration for such type of work. But reality
is a bit different. They do not offer a salary to the interpreters
along with guarantees like sick pay, pensions, holiday pay. They
expect them to be available 24/7 without offering any incentives.
In order for people to survive they need to earn at least the
minimum wage. And let's not forget about the market principles
of supply/demand and opportunity cost. We are not talking here
about unskilled labour. They are people with distinctive skill
sets that just cannot be replaced by anyone of the street.
This risks, according to respondents,
pushing highly skilled workers out of the court interpreters market.
In light of these facts we are facing
a decline of quality and the contract can only be sustained by
introduction of a monopoly to the provider of such services. This
is exactly what had happened here. There are no incentives that
are created for the interpreters to work for them. They will chose
other career opportunities and move away. So we will be left with
no other choice but to give this monopoly to "Capita".
The problem with this contract was that "Capita" and
MOJ assumed that it will be able to replace the workforce or force
them to work for nothing. That did not work out as planned but
there was no contingency plan in place. So the whole system started
collapsing and we need to stop that before it is too late to salvage
Administrative failure and the use of freelancers
Serious concerns were raised about
ALS's ability to administer interpreting services on a large scale.
All the jobs they phoned me is always
at the last minute. Sometimes in one day there were 5 jobs without
interpreter. They bombarded me with phone calls asking me to calculate
this or that, and by the time I work it out it is too late to
be at court. So it ended up job was cancelled or adjourned.
The allegation that interpreters
in numerous occasions failed to attend courts at which they were
booked, or were late to proceedings is prevalent throughout the
Following a no-show at the end of
August, when a witness and barrister turned up in court from far
afield (plus a number of local friends who had taken the day off
from work), only to find that ALS had not provided an interpreter,
there was a reconvened hearing in October. I phoned ALS regularly
to check on the provision of an interpreter, only to find, three
days before the hearing, that again there would be no interpreter.
They said they were unable to find one. I phoned the court asking
for their help. They obtained ALS's agreement that they could
not provide this service, whereupon the court undertook to find
a suitable interpreter, which they did with great professionalism.
If I had not made these telephone calls, there would have been
a second aborted court hearing, with hugely expensive, wasted
effort from a witness and barrister (both of whom had to travel
long distances and stay overnight to be at the court in time),
friends and the whole court (Judge, officials etc.).
On 5th October 2012 I attended [a]
Magistrates' Court to represent a client who required an interpreter;
the matter was relatively straight forward and should have been
dealt with more quickly than it was. The reason for the delay
was that despite an Interpreter being booked by ALS to arrive
for the morning no interpreter arrived until 2pm, the interpreter
who dealt with the matter had been to another matter at [a] Magistrates'
Court in the morning before arriving to deal with the matter.
The end result was that effectively my client was deprived of
his liberty for longer than he should otherwise have been.
Some legal practitioners have commented
on the implications of this; that their clients were held on remand
and denied their liberty as a result of the delay caused by absent
I am a criminal defence Solicitor
working in [a north England] region on Saturday 29th September
was Duty Solicitor covering a local Magistrates Court. One of
the three clients in custody on that date was a Lithuanian national
requiring the services of the Court Duty Solicitor having not
previously been represented during his interview. He had been
charged with an allegation involving domestic violence. However,
the Prosecutor had stated that provided he was able to supply
a separate address away from his former partner there was going
to be no objection to bail. That was the easy part! The client
could speak little, if any English and after an hour wait for
an interpreter (which the Police told the Court Clerk they had
contacted) nobody had attended. The best answer that could be
obtained is that an interpreter would be sought and would "probably"
be able to attend by mid afternoon. Understandably, the Magistrates
and Court Clerk were not prepared to wait that long certainly
where there was no definite answer given. I tried therefore to
assist as best as I could. Eventually I tried to utilise the Google
translate app on my IPhone. However there was no signal in the
cells and this meant having to go outside the Court building,
put the question whatever I was trying to say to the client into
the phone, go back and show him it through the Perspex and hope
that he understood what was being asked. Unfortunately, it turns
out that the Google translate app is perhaps not the most accurate
as far as Lithuanian is concerned. I was unable to adequately
explain the situation to the client and therefore unable to provide
any alternative address to the Court. Clearly on a Saturday there
was no chance of trying to obtain alternative accommodation which
is usually arranged through the Probation Service. Therefore the
client had to be remanded in custody until the Monday when through
the "Russian" interpreter who attended he was able to
secure bail having put forward an alternative address. It was
clear that had he had an Interpreter and being furnished with
that information bail could and should have been granted on the
On occasions when an interpreter
has been provided, however, legal practitioners report that in
some cases they do not speak the required language.
There are cases where ALS booked
a wrong dialect, I went to a Kurdish interpreting but shockingly
my client was a Bengali speaker not Kurdish, the case was adjourned.
But who knows if actually it was the ALS who made the mistake!
The chances are 50/50 it could be the MOJ person who requested
the booking made a mistake.
In order to resolve this issue courts
and tribunals have resorted to the use of freelance interpreters
under the pre-framework agreement arrangements.
In the last month my wife, who has
refused to work for ALS for professional reasons has undertaken
a number of interpreting tasks for the Immigration tribunal. These
were offered to her by an interpreting agency as ALS could not
find an interpreter. She was paid the standard court rate by the
agency who will charge the MoJ the same rate plus a suitable mark
up for their own expenses - say 20%. 
We have seen that when ALS/Capita
could not provide suitable interpreters, we were then thought
of as a 'rescue measure' to the incompetence of that agency who
has no knowledge whatsoever of what court interpreting actually
involves and is only motivated by what profit 'this lucrative
market' can bring for them. We know that Capita is still unable
to provide suitable interpreters and NRPSI colleagues are still
being contacted by the courts.
Mistranslation and a lack of qualifications
The quality of interpreters provided
by ALS has been called into question; numerous respondents report
instances of serious mistranslation with implications for court
An unqualified ALS interpreter told
me in a court case that I join in the last day, that she found
herself mis-interpreted a statement of the defendant, which lead
to the jury having the impression that the defendant evidence
is not creditable. She doesn't realize it should be declared to
the judge immediately in the court. I encouraged her to talk to
the barrister she work with, but no action was taken then.
I am also Italian and my client
could not speak any English therefore required the service of
an Italian interpreter. One of the two interpreters booked for
the hearing, as there were two Defendants both Italian nationals,
was utterly incompetent to the extent that she mistranslated the
whole of the conversation between Counsels and Judges. I had to
intervene and alert Counsel that she was misquoting and wrongly
translating what was being said in Court.
On 31 October a trial was set down
for an Italian national at a Court in London. The interpreter
supplied by ALS arrived late, she then spoke to me using words
which did not exist in the Italian language. She sat in the dock
with my client and did not translate anything: she then told the
Defendant she could not hear what was being said that is why she
did not translate. I subsequently spoke to my client who told
me she was totally useless. Had it not been for me, a native Italian,
being in Court and knowing my client, it would have been a complete
Further to this there have been
allegations that the interpreters lack knowledge of court procedure
I had a chance to observe a Russian
interpreter in a Magistrates' Court. With regard to the quality
of interpreting, I will give a couple of examples. She translated
the legal advisor's "Are you willing to indicate a plea?"
as "Are you guilty?" and she struggled with some simple
terms, e.g. "unconditional bail" was translated just
as "release". When I spoke to her after that short hearing,
she told me she was working for ALS for pocket money.
On 20th October 2012, I was duty
solicitor at [a] Magistrates' Court, on that day I represented
a client who appeared before the court in custody. Indeed as it
was a Saturday on remand prisoners appeared in court, the Interpreter
arrived late that day, which was not a particular problem since
I had to represent other clients. Eventually I had to take instructions
from the client on serious charges without the assistance of the
Interpreter, since when the interpreter did arrive she did not
inform the cells of her arrival which was unacceptable given the
fact the only defendants appearing before the court were remand
Even the easiest legal terms were
totally misinterpreted. The oath was interpreted as "the
proof I will give" - "give evidence" is the simplest
of the legal terms used in Court; and astonishingly, the Police's
caution (defendant's recorded interview was read out in Court)
was interpreted as "you should not say anything". When
it came to the more complex legal terminology, Capita's worker
simply stopped interpreting as she seemed completed lost; when
legal terms such as "burden of proof is reversed", "evidence
by way of rebuttal", or even simpler terms as "contemporary
notes" were being discussed, Capita's worker just kept an
worrying silence. Capita's worker also failed to comply with one
of the most important aspects of an interpreter: she was clearly
interpreting in a partial way towards the defendant. Victim's
family members, who could also speak both languages, complained
to the Prosecutor but he decided not to take action as he was
confident he had enough evidence to the jury (defendant was eventually
The court interpreter was terrible.
Her Bulgarian was not very good at all, I don't think it was her
first language. There was a great deal of legal terminology that
she did not translate but kept using the English words instead.
Concerns have been raised by the
level of qualifications held by interpreters and whether their
qualifications have been verified.
I cannot justify the contract can
ensure the safety of information and foreign language speakers
are rightfully represented in courts under the new system. I have
met many interpreters from ALS over the last few months, many
of them does not have any relevant qualification. For examples:
retired shop keepers and overseas students and local born Asian
ethnicity but out of job law student seeking court experience.
Having been talking to 2 of the overseas students with student
visa, they were not aware themselves being not entitle to work
as freelance interpreters. However, ALS staff told them that they
can work after seeing their passports during assessment.
I received my first job offer several
hours after I registered on their portal. I do not believe that
my qualifications, security checks and references were checked.
At that time I was not even able to upload my certificates / security
checks onto the portal. In fact I know that my referees were only
contacted by ALS some 3 or 4 months later. From my experience
it seems that ALS is allocating assignments on a "fist come
- first served" basis without taking professional qualifications
into account. The jobs that come up in my language on the ALS
portal are immediately taken by a few regional "Tier 2"
interpreters who do not work as professional interpreters and
therefore have time to sit in front of their computer/phone and
check for new assignments.
This is clearly a joke. I know at
least one Polish Tier 2 interpreter in Devon qualified to Tier
2 who has absolutely no degree in languages, does not have a DPSI.
This one has also attempted to pass the Met Test last year and
failed 3 of 4 parts.
Respondents however have reported
positive experiences in relation to the ease of use of the online
ALS runs a modern operation based
on a 'one-shop', Linguist Lounge portal. All Courts and Tribunals
job assignments are paperless and job details can be viewed on
a secure profile. At the end of each of my MoJ job assignments
the financial reconciliations are performed online within 72 hours
with weekly BACS transfers into my bank account. I have to admit,
I am quite familiar with the online office type of work and I
also have bags of IT experience gained from previous employment.
This probably helped me grasp much quicker the new way of doing
From my direct experience of working
both directly and through ALS, I wish to say that it is not plainly
correct that everything is bad. For example, the online system
is very good in principle and payments are received quickly by
BACS rather than by cheques. Also when it comes to the new rates,
I suspect it may have been perfectly acceptable rate per hour
if you were employed in a professional capacity of an interpreter
full or part-time with guaranteed payment. However, with the system
as is, the work is random and not guaranteed, very seldom capable
of yielding more that 15-20 hours per week interpreting on average
with bookings being scattered all over the country with travelling
time involved. Perhaps some courts could consider employing the
most common language interpreters on a part-time/full-time basis.
This would give the interpreters this much needed stability, pension
and holidays and the courts will get the reliability and value
Steps taken to rectify under performance
Some respondents have suggested
that interpreters were still not being properly vetted to check
their CRB status and their qualifications.
As of 25 October 2012, ALS continue
to use or offer work to interpreters who have not provided a current
security clearance to the company. Following the NAO report, Ministry
of Justice promised that by the beginning of September all interpreters
would be properly vetted and Solicitor General is repeating more
or less the same thing now. This is not true. ALS continues to
this day to offer work to interpreters who are not properly assessed
or security vetted. By failing to do so, they are putting public
at risk and are in breach of the framework agreement. It is about
time that this matter is brought in front of a court by judicial
review and the contract stopped until they get their act properly
Others disagreed, saying that the
assessment centre run by Middlesex University for ALS provided
suitable verification of interpreting skills.
The assessment carried out by ALS
and Middlesex University was in line with DPSI requirements, i.e.
simultaneous and consecutive interpreting were as hard as the
DPSI examination, the written translation on the other hand was
much easier than DPSI standard. In my opinion it is a good idea
to assess interpreters from time to time in order to guarantee
high standards although I can understand why many interpreters
were reluctant to undertake this assessment.
In the absence of that arrangement
there is doubt amongst respondents regarding the assessment process.
The only steps that I have noticed
are completely ineffectual. Re under-performance of interpreters
- I (a professionally qualified interpreter working over many
years) have seen some instances of other interpreters who have
not interpreted everything said and who should not be working
as interpreters, although if they were taken on by ALS it is not
ultimately their fault. The 'assessments' were a farce, with equipment
not working, and many problems voiced by most of the interpreters
that took it, but which were never responded to.
Interpreters working in the judicial
system are mostly professional with real, proven qualifications
and experience. The majority are registered with a professional
organisation such as the NRPSI (National Register of Public Interpreters),
the APCI (Association of Police and Court Interpreters) or other
reputable ones. Qualification procedures are rigorous, and standards
are therefore high. Technical terms have to be mastered, and court
proceedings require you to interpret jargon-laden legal language
in real time. Many interpreters have to retake tests/exams many
times before they qualify. The payoff for the courts is that all
NRPSI-registered interpreters can do the job properly. The same
cannot be said of the ALS 'test', which is frankly a joke. ALS
claimed their system was better as qualification was easier and
cheaper, and not all interpreters wanted to sit the DPSI or MET
tests or pay for NRPSI registration. The truth is people did not
want to sit the test because they would not be able to pass it.
And those are the people who are now working for ALS - the only
people who will work for it, given the insulting rates of pay
Aside from this concerns were raised
regarding quality assurance of interpreting services
I am concerned that standard of
interpreting for the police and courts is slipping, and that there
is no system in place for monitoring the quality of interpreting
provided by individual interpreters. In its tender document ALS
made much of its quality control systems, but I have neither seen
nor heard of any monitoring of interpreters' performance. I have
come across ALS interpreters working in the courts who do not
have the qualifications required for Tier 2, and whose interpreting
has been very poor. I have heard reports from many advocates and
others involved in court proceedings of poor interpreting by ALS
interpreters, and several defendants have told me that on previous
hearings they had interpreters whom they could scarcely understand,
and who didn't bother to interpret much of what was being said
The complaints system
The e-consultation received no reports
of the complaints system used by court staff. Legal practitioners
have reported difficulty with the system, however, and a reluctance
by ALS to take responsibility for interpreters who do not attend
court sessions when they have been booked.
I am very angry at ALS's response
to a request for repayment of wasted costs, due to their not providing
an interpreter at an asylum hearing in the North East. I had paid
for a vital witness to come from London and stay overnight in
a hotel, to testify on behalf of my friend who is an asylum seeker.
I then had to pay all over again at the reconvened hearing - the
same thing nearly happened, but this time I found out in time
(by continuously ringing them) that ALS were not going to be able
to provide an interpreter, and I was able to alert the court who
saved the day by providing one. Several days after my email to
ALS requesting repayment of the costs, a brusque lady from their
payment queries section phoned me, said the costs incurred were
not their responsibility and that I should contact the interpreter
who did not turn up (whoever they are). She stated, 'If you want
to save the world, that's your prerogative'. When I replied that
I was happy to pay for the witness to come once, whatever the
outcome, but not to cover for their lack of provision, and that
the government contract to provide the interpreter service was
with ALS and not with individual interpreters, she put the phone
down on me.
Interpreters have also been unable
to seek redress for complaints that they have had.
I am a fully qualified interpreter.
I have worked for ALS/Capita since it started. There have been
many problems since the start. I have tried writing e-mails, speaking
to a number of different members of staff at their offices and
also to a manager in person and by text, phone and e-mail. None
of the issues I have brought to their attention have ever been
resolved. It is very rare that I get a reply. When I do it is
only to say that the Ministry of Justice will not agree! All the
points I try to make, including suggestions of how things could
work better, are like talking to a brick wall, because it is as
if they deliberately do not want to understand what I am saying.
The only exception is the manager I have contact with, who at
least is sympathetic and understanding, but although they say
they will take it further, nothing has ever been resolved. My
working situation is getting tougher and tougher. Currently I
have no work. The last time I complained they not only did not
reply but promptly made jobs inaccessible to me, thus withholding
work. They reply that they do not have my qualifications documents
which they have had since the start. I have re-sent them to no
avail. All my attempts to sort the situation have resulted in
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