Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Association of Sign Language Interpreters

I am writing from the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) to respond to the call for evidence regarding interpreting and translation since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) become the sole contractor under the National Framework agreement.

ASLI took part in the initial consultations and insisted that there should be only NRCPD Registered Interpreters used in this contract. The concern we have is the lack of monitoring as to whether this is happening or not. We note the recently published statistics were created by ALS rather than appropriate monitoring systems being used by the Ministry of Justice to ensure the contractor is using interpreters of appropriate quality.

ALS have shown disregard for appropriate standards and vetting procedures. Just as doctors and social workers must be registered with appropriate bodies, the General Medical Council and the Health and Care Professions Council, respectively, there are registers of interpreters in existence: NRPSI and NRCPD. They already hold vetted interpreters who have reached the appropriate standards in interpreting. The Ministry of Justice and ALS have effectively ignored the NRPSI and the interpreters held on that register. There are concerns that in time, with a lack of monitoring, that standards will further be eroded for Sign Language Interpreters. The company that ALS chose to be a preferred supplier for Sign Language Interpreters had little to no experience in providing interpreters in court settings which has been detrimental to Deaf people and the interpreting profession.

ASLI worked with its members to develop the National Agreement, only part of which now applies due to this contract. There are solutions other than outsourcing the national interpreting provision in order to save money. These were not explored despite calls from interpreters and interpreter organisations to do so. The best practice seen with the London Metropolitan Police and Cambridgeshire Police in sourcing local interpreters via booking co-ordinators working closely with the local community provides value for money as well as serving local communities best. Local interpreters can remain in work and work closely with booking co-ordinators.

Many courts have been unable to source appropriately skilled interpreters due to this contract and where the contract has failed some have been unable to resort to the way they booked before. Sign Language Interpreters have experienced a drop in fees and the biggest problem appears to be cancellation fees which have been removed from terms and conditions by ALS. This creates a climate where interpreters can only accept last minute work, it stops continuity and the booking of the same interpreters for trials ensuring that safe interpretation can take place. Many bookings have had to be cancelled and the number of adjournments due to a lack of interpreter will inevitably negate the proposed cost savings as these are being passed on to courts themselves and Deaf people are not getting the appropriate access to justice that they should.

Deaf people can not access a complaints process and as they are the most vulnerable in society are Speakers of other languages using interpreting services such as Deaf people can not access the complaints process and legal personnel do not have the knowledge they need to ensure interpreters are effective and skilled. By using registers that are already in place and proven to work, interpreters of the appropriate standard are guaranteed and an accessible complaints process is in place for Deaf people.

Many of our members are boycotting the contract and as more police forces are signing up to the agreement, many have less work and are now leaving the profession. The most experienced interpreters are the ones who are often boycotting and as a result of this contract, Deaf people are receiving interpreters of a lower quality from a contractor who is ill-equipped to understand the needs of this community.

There are other options and ASLI would be willing to discuss these when necessary.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013