Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Ian McGarr

I am a registered legal interpreter number 12378 on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. I have the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (English law with French). Until recently I held the status of Chartered Linguist. I have decided that the inadequate contractual conditions imposed by Applied Language Solutions will make it impossible for me to continue to work as a legal interpreter in the justice system. Below are my comments in response to the request for submissions to the Justice Select Committee.

1. The Rationale for Changing Arrangements for the Provision of Interpreter Services

The National Agreement put in place after a review by Lord Justice Auld was abandoned without proper consultation with interpreter organisations. There seems to have been no similar prior study for the arrangements with Applied Language Solutions.

The consultation process leading to the Framework Agreement was flawed. As Chair of the West Midlands Legal Interpreting Steering Committee at the time, I requested a visit to demonstrate that a model of good, effective interpreting practice was in place in the West Midlands. However, visits were made to other areas, in some cases where there were perceived problems.

Insulting remarks were made without foundation by Ministry of Justice officials about professional interpreters. There were based on unsubstantiated “anecdotal evidence”.

The National Register of Public Service Interpreters was set up as a result of the Begum case in which poor interpreting by an unqualified individual led to a major miscarriage of justice. The NRPSI is internationally recognised as a standard to emulate, based on success in the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting examination. There was recognition of the specialised skills essential to the effective application of justice in the legal sector. By lowering the opportunities for entry into this sector, the Ministry of Justice undermines justice for those who have a limited knowledge of English. There are likely to be significant costs to justice in the United Kingdom as a result.

I have taught the skills of interpreting on two 10-week courses to Level 3. The students were not expected to demonstrate the skills required to work in the legal sector, even though they had the competencies for other interpreting work. Yet Level 3 can be an entry point under the Framework Agreement.

2. The Nature and Appropriateness of the Procurement System

The contract went to the lowest bidder, Applied Language Solutions, with inadequate vetting of their proposals. ALS claimed that they would have geographical location control of interpreters. This has clearly not happened. Bookings were outsourced to low cost call centres based abroad. It soon became apparent that these centres had no adequate knowledge of court and police requirements. Applied Language Solutions workers on tiers 2 and 3 have been sent to undertake work that should have been done by interpreters classed as tiers 1 or 2.

Very shortly into the contract, Applied Language Solutions was acquired by Capita. The way that this came about needs to be thoroughly investigated.

3. The Experience of Courts and Prisons in Receiving Interpreting Services that meet their needs

I have not registered with Applied Language Solutions. Therefore, I have not done any interpreting work in courts in 2012.

However, I have been to observe a number of court cases where an interpreter was required. I noted that ALS contract workers were being given considerable amounts of support by magistrates, court officials and solicitors, which was not the case under previous arrangements. This was happening even months into the contract. A number of ALS contract workers were not dressed in the formal appropriate manner that I would expect of a professional interpreter, nor demonstrating awareness of professional conduct.

Clearly, I am unable to comment on the performance of ALS contract workers at police stations since the public are not allowed access. However, the potential for inadequate justice for limited English speakers as a result of incompetent interpreting is considerable.

4. The Nature and Effectiveness of the Complaints Process

Since the introduction of the ALS contract, many qualified interpreters have made observations of procedures and reported on them to organisations under the Professional Interpreters for Justice umbrella, such as the evidence collated by the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance. The recording of this evidence seems to have had little or no effect on whether ALS retains a contract worker on their list. Many Members of Parliament have received this information. Surely it is time that an effective complaints procedure was put in place.

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

A report by the Magistrates’ Association recently highlighted the fact that ALS contract workers travel considerable distances to come to court, when magistrates are aware of highly competent qualified interpreters living near to the court. Yet they are unable to call upon the services.

The Asylum and Immigration Tribunals (AIT) booking team continue to approach me for a short-notice bookings where ALS has failed to supply an interpreter. AIT expressed reluctance to move to the new scheme because it was happy with the quality of the services provided by its interpreters in the past.

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

It became clear very early on that, far from saving money on the Ministry of Justice budget, the new system was costing more money. This was partly due to cases cancelled when ALS contracted workers failed to appear or when the service offered was inadequate.

Checks made by qualified interpreters themselves have revealed serious inadequacies in ALS procedures. For example, in some cases, if the interpreter had not specifically asked for his or her name to be removed from the ALS list, the name would continue to be counted as an ALS worker. Attempts appear to have been made to make the situation appear to the Ministry of Justice to be rosier than it actually was.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Framework Agreement needs to be set aside. The Ministry of Justice should enter into negotiations with interpreter organisations to bring about a return to the use of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, with a view to providing an effective service to courts and police, whilst at the same time not putting in jeopardy the needs of limited English speakers who have dealings with the justice system.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013