Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from John McCarthy

The contract given to ALS to provide all interpreting services to the courts in UK has had some very unfortunate consequences. It was no doubt intended as a measure to save millions of pounds from the annual costs of providing interpreters for defendants and other users of the CJS. However, reports from all over the UK indicate that these savings have not only not been achieved but that the implementation of the Framework Agreement has, in fact, resulted in increased expenditure within the CJS. These extra costs are, it is said, difficult to calculate, though it is greatly to be hoped that there are accountable people investigating this matter thoroughly.

What is clear is that the costs resulting from the many adjournments, abandoned trials and, possibly, future appeals that have been the result of the ALS failing to provide interpreters, or of the incompetence of interpreters where they have been provided, will far outweigh any savings that might have been made, even had the ALS been able to provide the levels of service they were contracted for and which they assured the government they were capable of providing. Of course, ALS were never going to be able to fulfill their obligations. They were asking well-qualified and experienced court interpreters to take a huge cut in remuneration overnight. This despite the fact that interpreters’ fees had remained at the same level for 10 years or so. The fees interpreters had commanded before the FWA were just about commensurate with the importance and difficulty of the work they were doing, but by no means excessive or even generous. Imagine announcing tomorrow that henceforth all doctors are to be paid less than half of their current salary, while expecting to maintain a high level of competence and commitment within the medical profession. Not even the craziest advocate of public service cutbacks would suggest so ludicrous a measure.

The ALS have, it seems, misguided the government/CJS on several accounts in order first to acquire the contract and then, in the face of criticism, to retain it. The agency was meant to ensure that all their interpreters were properly qualified. This is demonstrably not the case. They promised to be able to provide interpreters at very short notice in any language, at any court. There have been hundreds of failures to do this. It is even said that the ALS has been sending so-called interpreters to assignments at court, when not only are they lamentably ill-qualified for the work but even not legally permitted to take up employment in this country.

One of the reasons given by those who championed and promoted the new arrangements for the sourcing of interpreters to the CJS was that the previous system, whereby interpreters were sourced by the individual courts directly from the National Register (NRPSI), was that the system was wasteful and unfit for purpose. It is possible that it was not 100% perfect. What system is? There is little doubt though that it worked very well for the most part and was a hundred times better than what it has been replaced with.

To conclude, the FWA agreement has been a disaster on several levels:

1.It has made no savings, nor is likely to make any savings in the future.

2.It has resulted in defendants and others requiring the assistance of an interpreter receiving a second-rate service.

3.It risks cheapening the reputation of the UK’s hitherto much envied CJS.

4.It is grossly unfair to hard-working, well qualified and committed interpreters who now feel that their skills and qualifications are not valued.

I and most other professional interpreters hope that your committee will help to uncover the inadequacies of the ALS and recommend that the contract be revoked and the previous system reverted to as soon as possible. Only in this way can we maintain a fair and effective interpreting service to the CJS.

September 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013