Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract - Justice Committee Contents

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.

Forum questions

The web forum posed the following three questions:

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.[346]

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. [347]

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 using ALS.[348]

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?[349]

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. [350]

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.[351]

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.[352]

Some have reported that poor levels of pay are undermining a profession in which years of training are required.

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.[353]

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.[354]

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 what's left.[355]

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.[356]

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 responses.

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.).[357]

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.[358]

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 interpreters.

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 Saturday.[359]

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.[360]

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%. [361]

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.[362]

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 proceedings.

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.[363]

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.[364]

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 disaster.[365]

Further to this there have been allegations that the interpreters lack knowledge of court procedure and etiquette.

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.[366]

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 prisoners.[367]

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 found guilty).[368]

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.[369]

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.[370]

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.[371]

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.[372]

Positive experiences

Respondents however have reported positive experiences in relation to the ease of use of the online portal.

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 business.[373]

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 for money.[374]

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 together.[375]

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.[376]

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 on offer.[377]

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 in court.[378]

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.[379]

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 nothing.

346   Anna0703 Back

347   Fred Back


349   Elsy Back

350   dmn Back

351   babelfish Back

352   Elsy Back

353   Tomasap Back

354   Ibid. Back

355   Tomasap Back


357   LAK Back

358   Blackaby Back

359   Robin123 Back

360   Apollo Back

361   NDM1953 Back

362   N6 Back

363   Ed2005 Back

364   gio Back

365   Ibid. Back

366   Observer Back

367   Blackaby Back

368   hiroko1926 Back

369   Sophia Back

370   Ed2005 Back

371   dmn Back

372   JMP Back

373   mickydon Back

374   NRPSIinterpreter Back

375   AJ Back

376   B52 Back

377   artemis Back

378   nuthatch Back

379   LAK Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 6 February 2013