Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Magdalena Taylor


The Framework Agreement creates a monopoly for interpreting within the Criminal Justice Sector.

Creation of a Monopoly compromises any interpreter called upon to act as a Professional Witness and review the work of another interpreter. If the reviewing interpreter is dependent for work on the agency that engaged the interpreter whose work is being reviewed, this could place pressure on the reviewing interpreter not to provide a negative report.

The Framework Agreement was awarded to ALS despite evidence from a terminated contract that ALS had not been able to meet the requirements of a consortium of Police forces. If ALS were experiencing difficulties with a smaller contract, it can be anticipated that difficulties would be experienced with a larger, national contract.

The size of ALS, valued at £7 million with the Framework Agreement, presumably much less when the contract was awarded, suggests that the company did not have the infrastructure and capability to satisfy the terms of the contract.

The emphasis appears to have been on potential savings within the MoJ budget, without any consideration of the wider picture and potential additional costs elsewhere, such as delayed trials and the costs of detaining persons in custody for longer than necessary. Additionally, the potential for reduced tax revenues was not referenced.

Consultation with Interpreters and their representative bodies appears to have been a public relations activity not a true consultation. The concerns raise appear to have been discounted in reaching the decision.

With the majority of the Registered Public Service Interpreters declining to work with ASL, it should have been obvious that qualified interpreters would not be available to the courts.

The complaint of qualified interpreters is one of quality, the lower fees paid are a symptom of the desire to recruit less qualified persons for whom the fees are potentially a significant increase on their earning capacity elsewhere.

The situation in the UK is presenting a bad picture overseas, particularly to countries where the UK is critical of their Human Rights record.

Solicitors are advising clients on the assumption that ALS will not be able to provide an interpreter in court, and advising clients to inform the court that they speak English, to avoid being remanded in custody for several days, waiting for an interpreter to be engaged.


1. The Ministry of Justice asserts that the Framework Agreement does not create a monopoly in interpreting. Such statements have been made, inter alia, in a letter from Mr Kenneth Clarke to my MP, Ms Dawn Primarolo. Whilst it is true that the agreement does not create a monopoly in the total UK market for Language Services and that interpreters are at liberty to work in the wider market, it does create a monopoly in the specialist Criminal Justice sector. Interpreters working in the courts and for other CJS bodies under the previous arrangements have knowledge and qualifications (e.g. the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) specific to this are of work.

2. A monopoly supplier of Criminal Justice Interpreting, particularly if the framework agreement is extended to Police, CPS and other agencies, as is happening, places interpreters in a compromised position if called upon to act as a Professional Witness. I write as one who has, on several occasions, been requested to review interpreting when the quality or accuracy has been questioned.

3. Where the reviewing interpreter is reliant for work on the same agency that engaged the interpreter whose work is being reviewed, this can place pressure on the reviewing or Professional Witness interpreter, for them not to provide a negative report. A negative report could result in the Professional Witness/Reviewing Interpreter being penalised with respect to future work.

4. Even if there is no such pressure, and I am certain that the MoJ will claim that procedures are in place to avoid such issues, there will always be a suspicion that undue pressure could be placed on the reviewing interpreter. And interpreters will always fear that at a local level, procedures could be circumvented and that they could come under pressure. It is a case where “justice must be seen to be done”, and if it is not, there will always be scope for a belief that all is not above board.

5. During the consultation period, interpreters and their representative bodies provided ample evidence that ALS was not capable of providing the service required. A previous contract between a consortium of Police forces and ALS was terminated before a judicial review was heard.

6. During the course of the contract that was terminated, there were numerous examples given in the press that ALS were not providing adequately competent interpreters in a timely manner and the comment that the ALS contract was “hampering investigations” was quoted in press articles.

7. Shortly after the signing of the Framework Agreement, ALS was sold for a reported £7 million. It the company was only worth £7 million with the £60 million Framework Agreement, it was arguably worth much less before the agreement was signed. One has to wonder why a company with such a low value and with numerous illustrations of poor performance was awarded the contract.

8. If ALS was having difficulty satisfying the needs of a consortium of Police forces, it can be assumed that even greater difficulties would be experienced with a national contract.

9. In all publications prior to the Framework Agreement being signed, great emphasis was placed on estimated savings of £18 million p.a. Recently, in the House of Lords, it was stated that the Framework Agreement was unlikely to achieve the anticipated first year savings of £12 million, a reduction of £6 million within the first half year of the contract. More recently it has been suggested that no savings will be achieved.

10. The anticipated savings were only against the Ministry of Justice budget and did not take account of potential increased costs elsewhere or lack of revenue, inter alia:

(a)If a person is detained in Police Custody for longer than otherwise necessary due to the unavailability of an interpreter, there is a cost to the Police and ultimately the Local Authority budget

(b)Similarly, if a person is remanded in custody by court due to the lack of an interpreter, there is a cost on the Prison Service Budget

(c)If qualified interpreters are forced to move from the profession, and those who are engaged as interpreters are paid significantly less, there is a reduction in tax revenue

11. In addition to additional costs on CJS budgets, if a hearing is delayed, there are costs for solicitors and witnesses who attended court. The judicial process depends, in part, on those who are willing to attend court as a witness. Adjournment of a case is a frustrating experience for witnesses and could be a discouragement for witnesses to come forward.

12. Consultation with interpreters and their representative bodies had the appearance of a public relations exercise, with the decision already taken.

13. Interpreters and their representative bodies repeatedly made the points that quality would suffer, National Register Interpreters would not work with ALS due to concerns over quality and that ALS had demonstrated an inability to deliver on a much smaller contract. To my knowledge, no adequate response was given to these points.

14. When, in the first few weeks of the Framework Agreement, there were significant issues, the Ministry of Justice responded that it was monitoring the situation, and that it was working with the supplier to overcome what were described as “teething problems”.

15. An alternative view is that the problems were not “teething” ones, but an illustration that the Framework Agreement is unworkable, that ALS is not capable of attracting, retaining and deploying adequate numbers of qualified and competent interpreters to meet requirements of the courts, let alone Police and other CJS agencies.

16. Interpreters were dissuaded from working for ALS not for financial reasons but due to the total disregard for quality being shown by both the MoJ and ALS.

17. Within weeks of the commencement of the Framework Agreement, courts were permitted to revert to the previous arrangements for the engagement of interpreters. This, effectively, was asking professional interpreters to support, via the back door, a system that was unworkable.

18. As the majority of Registered Public Service Interpreters declined to work with ALS, it should have been obvious that ALS would not be able to provide either the numbers or quality of interpreters as had been available to the courts under the previous arrangements.

19. The issue over rates of pay, whilst presented by the Ministry of Justice as the main issue, is in fact, a symptom of the issue. This is not, as the MoJ would wish all to believe, a trade dispute over rates of pay, but one over the quality of justice.

20. The rates of pay offered by ALS illustrate, to my mind, that the intention is to recruit persons who speak, to a degree, English and another language, and ask them to act as interpreters, regardless of qualifications held or not held, or their experience and competence as an interpreter.

21. For those who have come to the UK in recent years and gained a knowledge of English, the rates offered can be a significant improvement on rates offered elsewhere. But those who have been working within the UK economy for several years, whilst they might have a good knowledge of English for social and their immediate work purposes, do not have broad and detailed knowledge of the legal processes in their own country, let alone the UK.

22. Whilst discussing rates of pay, the MoJ advised that the part of the problem was interpreters earning in excess of £100,000 p.a. It should be noted that under the National Agreement, the rates for court interpreting were set by the MoJ and under their control, without the need to engage an agency. The previous rates were £85 for the first three hours or part thereof, and £7.50 per 15 minutes for attendance greater than three hours, with slightly higher rates paid on a Saturday. My estimation is that if an interpreter attended a case on every weekday, and every Saturday, their earnings would be in the region of £30,000 to £40,000 p.a. Police rates vary, with higher rates paid for weekends, overnight work and public holidays, but similar earnings could be achievable for Police work. Interpreters earnings, therefore, would typically be in the region of £60,000–£80,000 p.a., comparable with other professional employment requiring post graduate qualifications, and less than the figure presented by the MoJ. I have asked my MP to obtain clarification of the earnings estimates from the MoJ, but have not yet received a reply.

23. Many from the European Union have experience of a Civil Law not a Common Law system. There are significant differences in legal structures and terminology. Summarising rather than interpreting all that is said is inadequate if a person is to have fair access to the legal system, whether as defendant, witness or victim.

24. It is easy for some to argue that those who come to the UK should learn English, but court interpreting has to address the situation as it exists, and that temporary visitors to the UK have no need to learn English.

25. It is also easy to argue against good interpreting standards on the grounds of “foreign criminals”. However, a good deal of the interpreter’s work is with victims and witnesses who do not speak English.

26. As an example, a road accident where witnesses were foreign tourists would require an interpreter.

27. To quote from a case for which I interpreted, the immediate witnesses to a fatal industrial accident were foreign labourers. I am confident that the family of the deceased British Engineer had no complaints about money spent on interpreters to ascertain how their loved one died.

28. When British nationals abroad are believed to receive unfair treatment in a foreign court, due to poor interpreting, this can be headline news in the British press. But when foreign nationals receive less than adequate service in British courts, it is not such an important story.

29. The situation is being noted abroad, with, for example representations from the United States and the agency Kontax—HTT, who provide interpreting and translation services for the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) , who it can be argued, have a good knowledge of quality requirements for interpreters.

(a)“Kontax—HTT—Bihorel—France—To someone who has lived in a country where there is no rule of law, to sacrifice justice to monetary concerns is the greatest crime of all. Yet that is exactly what Britain’s Ministry of Justice has done in contracting its court interpreting services nationwide to a single, inexperienced company—which then sought to pay interpreters sub-standard wages in order to keep to budget, and make further profit.” (http://kontax.com/Interpreting_the_rule_of_law-667-en.html)

30. If the UK is seen to be downgrading legal interpreting provisions, this is not a good example for countries where the UK is critical of the Human Rights record.

31. To illustrate quality issues, in my work as a Professional Witness, I was asked to review the video recordings from a Police station. I found that the person interpreting (not a registered interpreter) omitted to interpret significant points made by both Police officers and the person being interviewed, and was also advising the person being interviewed of the answers to provide. I should advise that this case did not involve ALS, but is an example of the problems that can be encountered when persons who are not qualified and vetted interpreters are used in CJS situations. I should also advise that following my review, the CPS discontinued the prosecution.

32. With regard to persons provided to the courts by ALS, whilst interpreting for the Crown Prosecution Service and Defence Solicitors, I have witnessed a number at work. A few were of reasonable quality, although obviously not comfortable interpreting some of the more complex legal issues. Many, however, only summarised what was being said in court, interpreting perhaps only 20% of what was being said, and often not accurately. In one case, when probation reports and the antecedent history were being presented to the court, the ALS interpreter advised the defendant that the court was discussing technical matters, and said no more.

33. Summarising proceedings does not give the defendant opportunity to understand the court process and adequately instruct their defence team.

34. I have noted a trend for Solicitors to advise clients on an assumption that ALS will not be able to provide an interpreter for court, the solicitor attending at the Police station giving advice to their client that they should inform the court that they spoke English and could understand the proceedings. The alternative presented to their client is that they might otherwise be remanded in custody for several days before an interpreter was arranged for the court. The solicitor had no confidence, based on previous experience, that an interpreter would be provided for the first few hearings. It cannot be good for justice if such advice is being given on a pragmatic rather than legal basis.

35. The lowering of standards is already producing a reaction in the way that professionals (Solicitors, Prosecutors, Police Officers, etc.) approach the person engaged to interpret. I have worked as an interpreter for some 20 years, and almost exclusively in the criminal justice system since 2005. I and my colleagues increasingly find that the Professional person asks if the interpreter has interpreted previously, or starts to give a detailed briefing of the interpreting process, such as “I will say something in English, you repeat it in the other language, and then say in English what the person says in response”. If some find it necessary to give such advice, it speaks volumes about some of their experiences of persons engaged to interpret.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013