Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Elder Rahimi Solicitors

We are a Chambers ranked firm of solicitors specialising in immigration and asylum. The bulk of our clients are legally aided. We have on average 10–20 appeal hearings listed each week before the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, mainly in London but also before the regional Courts.

Since the provision of interpreters at the Immigration and Asylum Chamber was taken over by ALS the quality of interpreters has dropped significantly and unacceptably given the serious issues being determined by the IAC. In addition to the distress caused to our clients, the inconvenience to the Tribunal and our already over stretched staff, the costs to the LSC are also higher. We have no option now but to obtain LSC funding for an independent interpreter to attend all hearings as the quality of the interpreters at the IAC cannot be relied on. Additionally a significant number of hearings adjourn due to problems with the interpreter becoming evident. This increases to the costs to the legal aid fund, in addition to the increased costs to the MOJ relating to adjournment of hearings.

A simple and representative example is the case of appeal—AA/05798.2012. The full hearing of this asylum appeal was listed at the Taylor House hearing centre on 20 July 2012. A Lingala interpreter had been booked. Lingala is only spoken in the DRC. An asylum appeal is a stressful matter where the Appellant is likely to have to give oral evidence of torture, mistreatment, loss of family members etc. Our clients are often extremely vulnerable in the run up to hearings. As far as possible so as to minimise this stress we do what we can to ensure that hearings are effective and that adjournments are not needed. Early on in the hearing the client made clear that she was having problems with the interpreter who was using many French words. Not all DRC nationals speak French, in fact probably the majority do not. The interpreter was asked not to use French words. However shortly it became clear that the interpreter could not interpret adequately and the haring was stopped. Investigation disclosed that the interpreter was in fact from Cameroon. Nowhere in Cameroon is Lingala spoken. Clearly the view had been taken that an interpreter from any Francophone African country would do. The hearing was adjourned and has been re-listed for 6 August 2012.

This would not have happened in the past at the IAC. The quality of the Lingala interpreters was generally high and we would not have routinely booked an independent interpreter to attend the hearing. Usually the fee for this is £80–£120 depending on how long the hearing lasts. The additional cost to the legal aid fund in this case due to the ALS contract is likely to be in the region of; two x independent interpreter fees estimated at £100—so £200, the additional hearing fee paid by the LSC due to the adjourned hearing £175—the additional travel of our advocate—say £10, so a total of roughly £400 on the basis that the next hearing of the appeal is effective. There is of course the additional costs to this firm in organising the adjourned hearing and dealing with the client and advocate in relation to it, to the IAC in organising the adjourned hearing, the cost to the National Asylum Support Service of funding the Appellant’s travel to the IAC for the additional hearing and generally the stress to the client.

I could provide you with many other similar examples. The routine booking of Farsi interpreters when a Dari interpreter is requested—these are not the same languages! Afghan Pashu interpreters for Baloch Pashtu speakers—they can barely understand each other!

From the point of view of the interpreters effected by the ALS contract, many of the highly skilled and experienced interpreters that this firm has worked with over the last decade are no longer able to make a living. They are asked to work for frankly insulting rates of pay by ALS. There is a complete lack of transparency and fairness in the ALS procedures. Interpreters of similar levels of experience are being paid different rates, individual interpreters who have agreed to work with ALS have negotiated individual rates of pay above the advertised ALS rates etc.

Years of effort went into trying to improve the quality of interpreters for this firm’s client group, at UKBA and at the Tribunal. Interpreters were encouraged to train and to register with professional bodies. Many paid large sums to obtain the necessary qualifications and registrations. All prisons now insist that registered interpreters are used on visits as do all best practice standards. These requirements did improve the quality of the interpreter pool and were positive. The move to the ASL contract reverses all these gains. The ALS requirements for the interpreters they use are frankly laughable. We are returning to a situation of unskilled and inexperienced interpreters being used which is simply unacceptable and shameful in the context of particularly asylum and human rights protection cases.

July 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013