Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Eszter Fejes

I am a DPSI qualified Hungarian interpreter and translator, member of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

The profession has always been opposing the decision to outsource the interpreting services within the criminal justice system. The majority of the interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) have refused to join Applied Language Solutions as the working conditions ALS are offering are unacceptable. As you are aware, under the previous arrangements (National Agreement), all police and court interpreters had to be registered on the NRPSI, with a recognised qualification and proven extensive experience. However, since the new contract with ALS has been introduced, absolutely inexperienced, un-vetted and unqualified people, many without valid CRB clearance, are sent to interpret at police stations and courts.

I have personally witnessed some ALS “interpreters” at work and also spoken to many police officers and court staff and I have to admit I am rather disturbed at such a drastic drop in the standards that are now required to work as a police and court interpreter. In fact, it looks like there are no longer any standards. Since ALS is in charge of supplying interpreters, suspects get bailed without having been interviewed, defendants are remanded in custody and several cases are adjourned every day because of lack of interpreter. Thousands of pounds of public money are being wasted every week and on several occasions human rights are being compromised.

1. 6 March 2012—Bradford Crown Court T20117270

R v. Naquash, Balogova, Danihel, Lakatos, Cicuova

Initially this case involved six defendants: three Hungarian-speaking defendants, one who speaks Hungarian as well as Slovak and he requested a Slovak interpreter, and also two Asian defendants who spoke the Urdu language. The trial was due to start on Monday 5 March, and was proposed to run for three weeks. Just before 5 o’clock on Friday 2 March the trial was rescheduled to start one day later on 6 March as ALS informed the court that they were unable to supply interpreters for Monday. 

On Day Two on Tuesday all defendants arrived at court but there were only two Hungarian interpreters—one of which has not got any interpreting qualification—and as ALS struggled to find a Slovak interpreter they sent a Czech interpreter instead! The Slovak-speaking defendant could not understand the Czech interpreter so by the end of the day his barrister made the decision to send the interpreter home and they requested that he too would get a Hungarian interpreter instead. This defendant complained that he did not understand anything from the proceedings on the first day because of the language problem.

For Day Three ALS managed to find one more Hungarian interpreter so there were three interpreters now for four defendants. Not ideal but the court agreed to proceed anyway as they could not delay the trial for any longer. This third interpreter was a young girl who did not seem to have any experience in court interpreting. The defendants complained that she just sat in silence and hardly translated anything whilst they were in the dock and when they asked her to translate she turned to her colleagues and asked them about what was going on because she said she could not understand what the barristers were saying. This was the first and last time this girl attended this trial. She did not come back the following day, I can only assume that she realised that she was unsuitable for the job. 

On Day Four another Hungarian interpreter turned up and he carried on working on this case with the other two Hungarian interpreters until the end of the trial. He has no interpreting qualification and was travelling to Bradford from Corby every day (270 miles round trip). One of the other interpreters was from Reading and she stayed in a hotel for the duration of the trial (for three weeks) because it would have been too long for her to commute every day. I would like to add here that there are four qualified Hungarian interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters within one hour travel distance from Bradford. 

On Day Four the Prosecution still could not proceed because they had a new witness who only spoke Urdu. They needed to take a written statement from him and it turns out his interpreter cannot read or write Urdu! If nothing else, this is proof that this person has no relevant interpreting qualification because both DPSI and MET tests have a written part too. Even ALS assessments have a written test which means ALS supplied the court with an interpreter that they have never vetted. So the whole court had to stand by whilst they could find another Urdu interpreter who could actually read and write too. Again I would like to add that there are 18 qualified Urdu interpreters on the National Register who live within four miles of the court. Most of them most likely will not have registered with ALS. 

I cannot comment on the quality of interpreting whilst the ALS interpreters were in the dock as I could not hear them, however, I did listen to one of these interpreters interpret for a defendant in the witness box. His interpretation was very vague, to say the least. He was inaccurate. He did not translate everything word for word but instead he summarised the sentences and sometimes he also added some extra explanation to the questions. Sometimes he translated a question in three different ways. His English grammar was rather poor. When he really struggled he also added words like “basically”, “actually”, “accordingly”. To give you some examples of all of the above:

Exact translation of words said by the Hungarian defendant

Translation of ALS interpreter

“I get hot flashes”

“I have a problem…I have a warm feeling”

“I convince myself that I am ill”

“I imagine those kind of things…I have this problem inside my head”

“I said all sorts of lies”

“I was lie.”


“ambulance people”

“they were holding hands like people in love”

“they grabbed each other like a love couple”

“I do not speak English”

“I do not understand anything”

“I have never been in a situation like this before”

“I never had problem before”

Do you take any medication for depression?”

Did you take any medication because of depression?”



“I do not want the wedding to happen”

“I do not want to take part in this”

As an interpreter it is not our job to explain a question or summarise an answer or to judge what was important and what was not. We are just there to translate everything word for word as accurately as possible. 

I brought these issues to the attention of the barristers but by this time the trial was so behind schedule they did not really want to delay it any further so they decided not to take any actions.

2. Leeds Crown Court 4 May 2012—T20117270

R v. Naquash, Balogova, Danihel, Lakatos, Cicuova

I have been asked by a solicitor to attend Leeds Crown Court on the day above to assist them and their Hungarian-speaking client who was due to be sentenced on this day after a long trial in March (please see details above).

There were four Hungarian defendants in this case but ALS only sent two Hungarian interpreters for those four defendants. Hungarian linguist No. 1 (HL1) was wearing her NRPSI badge despite the fact that she is not on the National Register anymore. I guess wearing an expired NRPSI badge is still less embarrassing than wearing an ALS badge. When she swore in, she went into the dock and sat down in the back between two of the defendants.

And then came Hungarian Linguist No. 2. (HL2) She was asked to take the oath but first she did not understand what she was asked to do. Then she started reading out the oath in broken English and with a very strong accent. She could not pronounce some words and generally really struggled. So the judge asked her: “Madam Interpreter, how good is your English?” She was just staring blankly. So the judge asked again, slowly, loudly and clearly: “Madam Interpreter, do you understand me?” Obviously she still didn’t because then she was trying to hand over her ALS Claim Form to him. Then the usher went over and asked if she understood the judge. This time she said yes, she just could not hear him first. She said something like “I think my English is good.” The judge promised he would speak up. She went into the dock and sat in the first row between the other two defendants.

The hearing started, HL1 was simultaneously interpreting more or less everything for the two defendants in the back, but HL2 was just sitting in silence. After about five minutes the judge asked her why she had not been translating the proceedings. Again, it felt that she did not understand the judge because she did not say a word. The judge explained that she should have been translating everything because so far the two defendants next to her did not have a clue about what had been discussed in the court room. She was very nervous and then suddenly HL1 stood up and told the judge that it did not matter if HL2 was not translating because she was and the other two defendants could just listen to her! The two barristers of these defendants stood up immediately and demanded that their clients should have a competent interpreter, too. Then HL2 suddenly said (still sitting) “But I have understood everything that has been said so far”. The judge got really mad and asked HL2 to leave the court! He explained that her role was not to “understand” but to “translate” the proceedings.

Then the barrister who had booked me told the judge that there was another Hungarian Interpreter in the court room (me). He told him that I was a qualified and competent interpreter but do not work for the new agency (Applied Language Solutions). The barrister asked the judge if I could go in the dock and interpret for his client. I stood up and told the judge that I was a qualified interpreter who used to work in the “old system” but refuse to work for ALS. I explained the reasons briefly but he seemed to have heard all about it anyway. He was very understanding and sympathetic. He described the new system as a “disgrace”. I told him that I did not just boycott ALS but also all direct bookings and would normally refuse a request like this. However, I appreciate the seriousness of the situation and I am happy to help. In return I asked that he lodged a complaint about this incident. He assured me that he would have done that anyway and he was very grateful that I helped. So I stepped inside the dock and we carried on.

When we finished, the judge thanked me again and left the court room. After this all solicitors and barristers approached me and they all had lots of stories to tell me about ALS, how bad they are, how many problems they are having every day with ALS interpreters, etc.

After the hearing even HL1 disappeared very quickly so it was me who stayed for another 1.5 hour to help all barristers one by one to consult with their clients who were now in custody.

I have no information as to whether the judge did lodge a complaint and if he did what actions were taken. Unfortunately, having heard about ALS’s vague complaints procedure, it is very likely that this interpreter is still working today unless she herself realised that she is not competent and stopped working as an interpreter.

3. 11 June 2012—Bolton Police Station, Greater Manchester Police

I was called by GMP in the morning of 11 June 2011 and asked to attend Bolton Police Station to interview a suspect who had been arrested on suspicion of rape. I understand that a colleague of mine (who also refuses to work for ALS) was also called to interpret for the victim in this case. ALS was unable to provide interpreters for a serious case like this. I do not normally accept such assignments and the majority of my colleagues refuse not only to work for ALS but also to take direct bookings from those organisations who are signed up with ALS. Professional interpreters stand united and do not wish to help ALS by filling in gaps and that way helping to give that false impression that the new system works. However in this instant I was left in a very difficult situation as the consequences of me refusing this request could have been very serious for the victim. With this in mind I decided to make an exception and accepted the assignment.

4. 3 August 2012—Leeds/Bradford, West Yorkshire Police

I had a call from a DC from West Yorkshire Police around 4.30pm on 3 August 2012. The officer asked if I was available to take an urgent assignment with them. I refused the assignment and when I started explaining my reasons the officer interrupted me and said he fully understood my reasons however if I did not help them “someone could die”. He explained that a Hungarian girl was kidnapped and they needed my help immediately. I was in a similar position to the previous example—regarding the circumstances and the fact that someone’s life was in danger I felt I had no choice but to accept the job.

5. 16 August 2012—Dewsbury Police Station, West Yorkshire

Three Hungarian suspects had to be bailed on Thursday 16 August 2012 at Dewsbury Police Station because ALS was unable to send an interpreter to assist in their interviews. They were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were kept in custody overnight and the police requested an interpreter to come to the police station for 9.00 am. At 9.00 am ALS called and told the police that the earliest they could send an interpreter would be 11.00 am. At 11.00 am ALS rang again and said that the interpreter will not get there until 1.00 pm. By this time the police decided to bail the suspects because even if the interpreter had arrived at 1:00 pm they would not have had sufficient time to interview them all before their custody time ran out.


According to an officer who works at one of these police forces, this is now common practice—it happens regularly that ALS cannot provide interpreters and the officers then bail the suspects and ask them to attend the police station at another time for the interviews.

The consequences of this are potentially more serious than it first seems. In the case above in Dewsbury, the three suspects were bailed—there were no conditions attached to their bail. They were free to go, free to re-offend. Furthermore, they can freely discuss the incident they were arrested for and fabricate a version of events that will save all three of them from prosecution. Cases like this are also sending the wrong message to foreign criminals—they will learn quickly that the police and courts are having difficulties finding interpreters and therefore get interviewed at a later time, days after their arrest. These few days will give them enough time to prepare for the interview and come up with an alibi.

And last but not least let’s not forget about the extra costs incurred by keeping three suspects in custody for close to 24 hours just so that they can bail them the following day, only for them to come back at another time. And also the man-hours of the officers, wasted by being on standby waiting for interpreters who never arrive, and having to process the suspects twice in custody, etc. Not to mention the likelihood of the suspects not answering bail and a warrant having to be issued for their arrest.

It is also a very dangerous and unsustainable solution that every time ALS fails to provide an interpreter police call someone from the National Register. Interpreters on the National Register should not be put in a situation where we get told that if we do not take an assignment (i.e. refuse to help out the failing system of ALS) “someone could die”. The life of these foreign victims is not the interpreter’s responsibility. It is the responsibility and duty of the police and therefore the police should make sure that their interpreter system works effectively 24/7. Furthermore please do not forget that those qualified and experienced interpreters who have not signed up with ALS are now looking for a career move or have already changed career. It is sad to see so many experienced colleagues leave the profession and soon there will be no National Register to fall back on when ALS fails to supply.

I am struggling to understand how such a seemingly unreliable language services provider is allowed to enter into further contracts in the public sector. This unprofessional, unfair and unreliable system has to be changed before it is too late.

September 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013