Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from SE Suffolk Bench

Interpreters 2012

1. This paper will be rather briefer than originally intended since; the lengthy reorganisation of the administrative team for Suffolk has led to a situation whereby, no historical record has been maintained of failures to provide interpreters, despite notifications from the benches who experienced problems during their sittings.

2. Historically the Bench had received a good service from locally booked interpreters, which were arranged by the court office. I cannot recall a single occurrence, over the 12 years prior to the new contract, when a bench was not provided with an interpreter.

3. Upon the introduction of the new contract we all felt that we had no control and that there was little concept of customer service; complaints were fobbed off for months by the centre with promises of improvements in the future. Despite asking we still have no information about the operation of the contract or of the performance indicators by which it is measured.

4. From the outset I was forwarded regular complaints from colleagues who were unable to progress matters for the lack of an interpreter, something that was only brought to their attention at the start of the day’s business. In addition to the wasted court time, caused by unnecessary adjournments, a number of defendants who appeared in custody had to be remanded in custody for lack of information. From personal experience I am aware that this caused emotional distress since it was impossible to communicate our reasons to the defendant.

5. My initial perception was that problems occurred every few days; unhappily I am unable to substantiate this due to the lack of local records mentioned above.

6. We continue to have problems, albeit not of the same magnitude, the most recent being a fortnight ago. Remaining issues for us are:

(a)Difficulty in providing Eastern European interpreters e.g. Polish, Lithuanian, resulting in us having to rely on the linguistic skills of magistrates or “Google Translator”.

(b)A lack of confidence in the quality of some interpreters, there are instances where the defendant give the impression that they do not understand what is being said to them,

(c)The cost (and delay to the court) of having interpreters sent from as far away as Newcastle upon Tyne to Ipswich,

(d)Despite the recent improvements they have been insufficient to give the Bench full confidence in either the service provider or the contact management team—does one actually exist and will they ever communicate with their “customers”?

7. Sadly this note lacks the detailed substance that it deserves, as with many things caused by the recent upheaval in HMCTS. I am unable to effectively convey the anger expressed by colleagues at the Bench ½-year meeting but suffice to say that there have been few issues over the past few years which have so galvanised the membership. I hope that these few lines are of assistance to you?

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013