Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Yelena McCafferty

I am one of the interpreters who started running a website to monitor ALS’s under-performance and failure to provide a quality and efficient service under the contract, by publishing evidence submitted to us by court observers, courts users, such as solicitors, and anyone else who witnessed incidents of poor service in courts across England and Wales. The website address is www.linguistlounge.org.

I have been astounded by the sheer number of submissions we received through the website and I also realise it’s only a fraction of what has been going on in courts and tribunals up and down the country. It’s clear from the evidence submitted to us that the contract has been an utter failure. To date we have collected 137 reports of unacceptable performance at courts pointing at the contractor’s inability to provide interpreters for the time slots as booked by the court staff (1), [here and thereafter the number points to a source reference given in the Appendix at the end of the submission]), to supply interpreters at all (2) or to ensure the service of the expected quality, eg correct interpreting during court proceedings (3). Such stories exposing the appalling level of service maintained by ALS also reveal the extent of consequences it has for justice in the UK as witnesses have heard verdicts mistranslated (4), evidence distorted (5) and bail conditions misinterpreted or omitted all together (6). Whole trials also halted as no interpreters attended (7).

Witness reports also demonstrate the negative impact the new contract has had on people who have had to use the court service. Defendants have had to attend court hearings which didn’t go ahead after several adjournments in a row because ALS failed to provide an interpreter (8), which meant such people’s cases were left unresolved, they lost daily incomes by taking time off work to attend court in vain on numerous occasions; some criminals walked out of courts unpunished and potentially posing a threat to the society at large, others were remanded into custody at the tax-payer’s expense (9), often for “simple” offences such as shop thefts as the justices were concerned about them re-offending if allowed out of court until the next adjourned hearing.

Another frightening point observers make in their submissions is the absence of vetting, previous interpreting experience or proper qualifications (10). We have even had a report from an ALS insider, commenting on ALS job tiers, ALS “colleagues” and assessment (11).

Court observers and newspaper reporters speak of ALS sending wrong language interpreters too (12), which indicates either system incompetence or a deliberate attempt to improve statistics by all available means.

The news section on our website contains 178 news stories on the issue of ALS’s underperformance (13), as reported by national and local newspapers, TV and radio stations. They highlight the extent of the contractor’s failure to rectify the service (14), as interpreters fail to attend or make mistakes (15), lack of appropriate monitoring when unqualified relatives of ALS interpreters attend court as substitutes (16), as well as total disregard to making the promised savings when ALS linguists are sent to courts hundreds of miles away (17). Special attention is drawn to an investigation carried out by the BBC which revealed that security vetting of ALS interpreters didn’t exist (18).

The Comment and Analysis section of the site presents analytical articles exposing the faults of the Framework Agreement with ALS. A good example is our Framework Fantasies series run by regular contributors, which until today has looked into such items of the Framework Agreement as key performance indicators (19), geo location software and use of modern technology (20), availability of all languages within a 25 mile radius (21), back to back assignments (22), continuous professional development (23), security vetting (24) and number of interpreters working for ALS under the contract (25). The last point, ie refusal of the majority of professional interpreters to work under the Framework Agreement, is reinforced by the Videos section (26) of our website, with four videos focused on the demonstrations qualified interpreters held in spring this year.

Some of the letters published and responses received demonstrate the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to disclose any details of the way the service is implemented. A good illustration of this is the Ministry’s refusal to answer simple questions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In one instance the Ministry refused to answer only one question about the total number of cases which were adjourned by only one court where no interpreter was provided, since the ALS contract went live (27). The reason for refusing to provide the answer was that it would cost more than 600 pounds and take more than 3.5 working days to do a file search. Last year, before the Ministry entered into the contract with the new supplier for court interpreting services (ALS), a request for information with three (3) questions across the whole Tribunal Service received a detailed answer (28). The information requested concerns Year 2011, before ALS started the contract. Even a request with five (5!) questions on court interpreting statistics before ALS took over was honoured by the Ministry’s Data Access and Compliance Unit (29). Considering the fact that there has been a lot of negative publicity about the contractor failing to deliver the service under the Framework Agreement it appears that the Ministry is deliberately trying to withhold any details they can to prevent the situation from looking even worse and presenting them in an unfavourable light.

However hard the Ministry of Justice may try to turn a blind to this evidence and hope for the contractor to improve, the improvement is highly unlikely as courts continue calling interpreters direct at the “old” rates (30) and through other agencies (31). Although the fulfilment rates may look better, the quality remains unacceptable as our numerous stories demonstrate (32). The majority of professional and qualified interpreters will not work for ALS (25).

I hope you will take the time to browse through the website www.linguistlounge.org and read some of the evidence we have collected from trustworthy sources and published in the public domain. I would be delighted to answer any queries you may have.

August 2012



1. Distressed Vulnerable Adult and Wasted Costs as ALS Interpreter Fails to Attend on Time http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/486

2. No interpreter at Taunton Magistrates’ Court this morning http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/393

3. ALS interpreter sent home by Crown Court Judge for being incompetent http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/372

4. ALS linguist fails to interpret a 15-year prison sentence http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/338

5. Tier 3 linguist in action, Skegness Magistrates’ Court http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/207

6. Observation of performance of Polish ALS interpreters in a Magistrates Court http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/213

7. Trial Halted at Leeds Crown Court as No Interpreter Present http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/86

8. More relatives act as interpreters in courts http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/282

9. Judge Orders Another Adjournment http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/158

10. ALS/Capita subcontractor sent to court after admitting he had no qualifications or experience http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/447

11. Applied Language Solutions Exposed by an Insider http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/88

12. Why does Applied Language Solutions send wrong language interpreters? http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/442

13. “Self-serving” interpreter figures slammed http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/425

14. Court cases hampered by translation failures http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/408

15. Trial collapses at Snaresbrook court after interpreter error http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/317

16. Daily Mail: Trial stopped as murder case translator was only there because his wife—the real interpreter—was “too busy to show up” http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/509

17. Interpreter travels 560 miles for Ipswich court case http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/257

18. BBC News: Court interpreter checks “non-existent” http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/news/534

19. Framework Fantasies: Unachievable Promises Made to be Broken http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/437

20. Framework Fantasies: modern technology which doesn’t work http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/448

21. Framework Fantasies: availability of all languages within a 25 mile radius http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/460

22. Framework Fantasies: back-to-back assignments http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/484

23. Framework Fantasies: Continuous Professional Development http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/491

24. Framework Fantasies: security vetting http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/517

25. Framework Fantasies: number of interpreters working under FWA http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/528

26. http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/videos

27. MOJ refuses to answer an FoI request with one question about one court as it costs over £600! http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/the-letters-page/441

28. http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/information-access-rights/foi-disclosure-log/courts-tribunals/foi-74533-interpreting-for-tribunal-service-30–09–11.doc

29. http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/information-access-rights/foi-disclosure-log/courts-tribunals/foi-74506-interpreting-for-tribunal-service-equality-standards.doc

30. Direct court interpreting requests continue http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/468

31. Courts Receive Help from Other Agencies as ALS Fails—Is this what the Framework Agreement is About? http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/analysis-and-comment/234

32. Defendant found not guilty, ALS/Capita interpreter says nothing http://www.linguistlounge.org/index.php/all-articles/court-and-tribunal-interpreting-reports/489

Prepared 5th February 2013