Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Elvana Moore

Please find below my response to the call for evidence in respect of the Applied Language Solutions (ALS) contract with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). I have confined my comments to a number of the six areas defined in the announcement, and they are based on personal experience as a highly qualified court interpreter who has provided services in the South West England and South Wales area since 2005, and until ALS were awarded the contract. Additionally, I have used information as detailed in the web site www.linguistlounge.com, which I would strongly recommend member of the committee to read in detail.

1. Rationale for Changing Arrangements

I can find no rationale for outsourcing the previous system. In my experience over seven years it worked very well indeed. The Court Listings Officer selected an interpreter from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, arranged the appointment and on completion the interpreter submitted a claim form to the court. The selected interpreter was that closest to the court, the listings officer managed the appointment and communication between the court and the interpreter was swift efficient and effective. Not once did I not attend and over time a rapport was built between the court and the interpreter which ensured that the needs of the court were met. Comments by the MoJ that the previous system was ineffective and open to abuse have no foundation whatsoever, and I suspect have been used as a smokescreen in an attempt to hide the truth.

2. Nature and Appropriateness of the Procurement Process

Well founded advice given by various professional bodies who handle interpreters was wholly ignored by the MoJ, whose arrogance in this process was astounding. Moreover, it is beyond belief that ALS were awarded the contract—they had no experience in this field and indeed it would not be unreasonable to speculate that some personal relationship between ALS and the Ministry was involved as soon after the award ALS was bought by Capita PLC. Someone somewhere has made a considerable amount of money through a wholly unsuitable and ineffective contract using the public purse.

3. Experience of Courts and Prisons in Receiving Interpretation Services that meets their needs

It is quite clear that that ALS has spectacularly failed to meet the legal requirements of the contract. Hundreds of court cases have been adjourned at considerable cost to the public purse and a number of high profile cases have been abandoned. ALS have been summoned to appear before judges and have had costs awarded against them. Wholly unsuitable and unqualified interpreters have been recruited by ALS, and many have worked in courts without the requisite security and CRB vetting. Moreover, ALS have claimed that they have over 3,000 qualified interpreters on their books—this is not possible as a simple correlation using numbers vetted by Warwickshire Police, who were given the task, and the number of previously qualified interpreters who moved to ALS will prove. Despite continual assurances by the MoJ that the system has improved it has not, so much so that Solicitors’ are now employing interpreters on a case by case basis as they have no faith in those provided by ALS—this is an additional cost that is funded through legal aid.

4. Nature and Effectiveness of the Complaints Process

Bearing in mind it is some seven months since the inception of the contract and major problems continue, it is obvious that the complaints process is not effective and that appropriate remedial action has not been taken. It would seem that the MoJ is turning a blind eye and allowing our once highly respected judicial system to fall into disrepute.

5. Steps that have been taken to Rectify Under-performance and the Extent to which they have been Effective

No steps have been taken.

6. Appropriateness of Arrangements for Monitoring the Management of the Contract, including the Quality and Cost-effectiveness of the Services Delivered

There would appear to be little monitoring of arrangements as many requests for information on this subject called under FoI Act have been dismissed using excuses that hold no foundation. In these days of severe financial austerity, and bearing in mind the plethora of IT systems available it is beyond belief that it appears the MoJ has no way of monitoring the contractor’s performance and states that it will incur disproportionate costs to ascertain the damage to the public purse due to the direct failings of the said contractor. The quality of the service offered is appalling and thus the cost-effectiveness. The costs of adjournments and disruptions to our courts since 1 February 2012 alone must now run into millions and the longer the MoJ insist on retaining the contractor the costs to the public purse can only increase. Indeed, it is fair to say that no savings have been made thus far, as the NAO will no doubt discover in due time.

7. Additional Comments

(a)Outsourcing has not resulted in any staff savings in courts nor indeed the MoJ.

(b)All interpreters who have refused to work for ALS would agree that due to financial restraints on the public purse there was a good case to review payment levels. Yet, no one in the MoJ seemed to have the sense of taking an approach to reduce the previous payment levels; this could have been negotiated though one of the professional bodies.

(c)The ALS contract has cost the public purse dearly and more importantly made a mockery of our legal system. It needs to be curtailed immediately and the previous system reverted to before those qualified and experienced interpreters leave the industry permanently. They will not be easy to replace as it is a very costly and time consuming business to gain a suitable qualifications and the experience to work in courts.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013