Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters

Introduction

1. The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry on the provision of interpretation and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract.

2. NRPSI is the UK’s independent voluntary regulator for the interpreting profession having been formed in 1994 from The Nuffield Interpreters Project. NRPSI became independent from the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) in April 2011 to fulfil its role as independent voluntary regulator.

3. NRPSI maintains a register of 2,200 professional, qualified and accountable public service interpreters in 101 languages with specialist areas in law, health, local government and other public sectors. The Register is open access and free to search.

4. Membership organisations in the interpreting profession, also require their members to be registered with NRPSI.

Overview

5. On the 31 October 2011 under the Framework Agreement (FWA), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contracted interpretation and translation services to Applied Language Solutions (ALS). Formerly the provision of interpretation and translation services was governed by National Agreement (NA) established in 1999. The NA complied with Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) including, “the right to be informed in a language one understands of the reasons for arrest” and “the right to a fair trial, incorporating the right to have the free assistance of an interpreter”. The NA requires spoken language interpreters to be registered with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)

6. NRPSI was established on the recommendations of Lord Woolf’s review of the civil justice system, “Access to Justice 1996”. The review followed a case where inadequate interpreting services led to a serious miscarriage of justice and the suicide of the victim. Lord Woolf recognised the need for a “highly qualified interpreting profession that was both accountable and sustainable in order to support public services and in particular the Courts”.

7. The development of an accountable and sustainable interpreting profession requires the functions and role of an independent regulator and arbitrator. We hope the Justice Select Committee inquiry will recognise this requirement and make recommendations to ensure the development of such a role as well as to comply with Article 9 of the EC Directive 2010/64/EU to “bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive by 27 October 2013”.

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

8. NRPSI recognises MoJ’s responsibility to improve efficiency and effectiveness. We accept that outsourcing was the MoJ’s immediate solution to achieving savings and streamlining. However, cost savings should not be made at the expense of quality and public safety.

9. We understand and support improving efficiency and effectiveness, but we have a direct interest in the core underlying principle of maintaining the quality and fitness for purpose of public service interpreting provision. The ALS contract also commenced operations without a defined transitional trial period for testing the new arrangements.

10. The current FWA is patently and demonstrably unsuccessfully being delivered through the ALS contract. (See web links given below for examples.) Concerns are daily raised from the Courts and other users, and our registrants inform us of the very real problems interpreters are facing and the difficulties being encountered by their clients in the justice sector.

11. Whilst the MoJ contract with ALS will run until 30th October 2016, given the endemic failure to deliver an effective quality service, NRPSI calls for an urgent comprehensive review of the FWA to focus particularly on the failure of the ALS contract to protect the public and the hidden costs of the poor interpreting support provided to the Judicial system.

12. We believe it is essential that the review be conducted with the full participation of all relevant stakeholders, including NRPSI and representatives of service users and service providers to examine the operation of FWA in the key areas of:

Quality.

Consistency.

Inclusiveness.

Cost.

Transition, trial and training.

Compliance with ECHR.

Maintenance of a viable interpreting profession for the future.

2. The Nature and Appropriateness of the Procurement Process

13. NRPSI acknowledges MoJ’s assurances to comply with UK and EU legal procurement requirements. However, we contend that the research and design stages, and the consultation process used to develop the FWA were not undertaken with due diligence. The consultation process lacked inclusion and involvement of relevant sector participants, including ourselves and other key stakeholders. This resulted in fragile and insufficiently robust procurement criteria which failed to specify measurable deliverables to judge the quality of language services being sourced.

14. Although representative UK bodies, international interpreting and translating organisations and individual interpreting practitioners have made detailed and evidenced submissions, these contributions were neither successful nor acknowledged. NRPSI provided written information and met with MoJ on several occasions prior to the award of the ALS contract. We have sought to establish and encourage a constructive dialogue. We have written on several occasions both to the MoJ officials and the Justice Secretary but regrettably our efforts were ignored and our correspondence unacknowledged.

15. The MoJ procurement process resulting in the appointment of a sole supplier which lacks experience in providing to the scale and requirements of the UK’s judicial system represents a threat to the judicial system and an endorsement of a monopoly. Being the sole provider for the MoJ gives ALS dominance to dictate recruitment, pay, price, quality and other factors, preventing fair competition and disadvantaging other existing and new suppliers.

16. NRPSI requests a review of the FWA incorporating cohesive inclusion and involvement of relevant sector participants and stakeholders.

3. The Experience of the Courts and Prisons in Receiving Interpretation Services That Meet Their Needs

17. The Justice Select Committee is better placed to acquire hard information from the MoJ on the experiences of the courts and prisons in receiving the interpretation services provided by ALS.

18. From the below sources it is very clear that there is a massive failure of the FWA both in the way in which it was set up and most particularly in its application by ALS.

Information from the public domain and media.

Direct feedback from our registrants.

Discussions with interpreting organisations.

Regular judicial contact.

19. NRPSI is regularly asked by Court staff to find substitutes for ALS interpreters who failed to attend court or who are not suitably qualified.

20. Based on the information received we would like to raise key areas of concern:

3.1 Quality Service

21. NRPSI has closely monitored the operation of the ALS contract. Our major concern is that quality requirements are not being met resulting in the justice system failing to deliver to expectations. We have serious concerns that the MoJ will continue to process this demonstrably failing system, without making significant changes to ensure quality is achieved and overseen by an independent representative body.

22. ALS’s failure to meet many of its contracted performance KPIs resulted in the numerous complaints from judges and other judicial staff covering:

Failure to provide interpreters.

Supplying unqualified, inexperienced and incompetent interpreters.

Causing disruption and delays to criminal trials, adding expenses.

23. Inaccuracies in court interpreting can lead to wrongful conviction, which is detrimental to public protection and will inevitably breach the UK’s Human Rights obligations.

24. As of July 2012 only 301 out of 1,500 ALS interpreters are registered with the NRPSI. This can translate as only 20% of ALS interpreters are fully qualified and only 13% of NRPSI registrants are enlisted with ALS. The majority of NRPSI registrants and a large proportion of qualified professional interpreters have refused to register with ALS due to the lack of quality assurance and very low rates of remuneration. We recognise the rights of our registrants not to register with ALS but also recognise that consequently, the MoJ and the public have only limited access to qualified professional interpreters through the ALS contract. The ALS contract has undermined the Woolf’s rationale for establishing NRPSI “to ensure a sustainable interpreting profession to meet the needs of the UK public service”. As a result, the standards and sustainability of the interpreting profession are threatened.

25. To ensure equality and access to the legal system for the entire public, the provision of qualified professional interpreters must be acknowledged as fundamental to open and effective communications which are key components in delivering justice. Assurance of service quality is the primary factor in procuring interpreting and translating services.

26. The National Audit Office (NAO) is also currently conducting an investigation into the ALS contract, the findings of which will have relevance to this inquiry.

3.2 Cost Saving

27. As highlighted, many interpreters contracted by ALS have inadequate qualifications. Since the FWA fails to provide clear quality control mechanisms and is predominantly cost driven, ALS is forced to compromise on the quality of service being provided.

28. The unsatisfactory and unreliable services by ALS have resulted in extensive disruption, delay and inaccuracies to judicial proceedings, incurring considerable costs.

29. The FWA’s arrangement adds an additional tier in the courts’ sourcing system by requiring ALS to set up a supplementary list of interpreters increasing complexity and cost. The National Register already exists, is known and trusted by those commissioning interpreters and is publicly available free of charge providing a list of qualified accountable professional interpreters who have met its stringent quality criteria.

30. NRPSI supports public bodies in making savings but asserts that reduction in costs should not result in reduction of quality and public protection. By continuing to implement the FWA in its current state, the MoJ and the public will result in a false economy. No information is available on how the cost savings will be achieved by the FWA or more importantly if savings are being achieved.

31. We assert that whilst increasing efficiency and reducing costs is necessary, with increasing globalisation and the importance of migration the provision of language support is a legitimate and necessary cost, central to accessing all public services including the legal system.

32. We believe that choosing inadequate suppliers in the long-run will result in inferior quality interpreting services. It is necessary for the MoJ and other government bodies to make sufficient budget provision and establish effective quality control for interpreting and translating services to ensure effective delivery.

3.3 Public Protection and European Union

33. Complementary to complying with Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the UK has agreed to implement European Commission Directive 2010/64/EU, on ‘the Right to Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings’ by October 2013.

34. Under the current FWA and ALS contract, the UK may not fulfil Articles 2, 3 and 5 the EC Directive 2010/64/EU, to provide “interpretation of a quality sufficient to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings” and “to establish a register or registers of independent translators and interpreters who are appropriately qualified”.

35. NRPSI proposes that serious considerations be given to reinstate in the FWA, Section 1.3 of the National Agreement (NA) which emphasises that “face-to-face interpreters used in this context should be registered with NRPSI”. This will ensure that MoJ has sufficient professional qualified interpreters registered with an independent register to resolve the above concerns. NRPSI is already recognised by the European Commission as an independent register and voluntary regulator.

4. The Nature and Effectiveness of the Complaints Process

36. In order for service users to have confidence in the quality and reliability of a language services provider it must vet interpreters, establish levels of qualification, manage costs, and provide and implement complaints procedures.

37. Currently the FWA lacks detailed prescription of an adequate complaints management system.

38. NRPSI is the UK’s only independent voluntary regulator for the interpreting profession. Our register is recognised as independent, transparent and credible. Registrants are vetted against stringent quality criteria and subject to a Code of Professional Conduct. We are the only body that operates an open and transparent complaints procedure whereby our registrants are accountable if they breach our Code being subject to discipline proceedings and ultimately, exclusion. No other organisation in the interpreting field has a comparable Code of Professional Conduct.

39. We recommend that only interpreters on the National Register are used in the judicial sector as they are appropriately qualified, have the level of competence claimed, have relevant security checks, employ best practice and are accountable.

5. The Steps That Have Been Taken to Rectify Under-Performance and the Extent to Which They Have Been Effective

40. NRPSI does not know what immediate steps the MoJ and ALS have taken to rectify the failure of the FWA/ALS contract. However we have, together with the staff associations, closely monitored the unsatisfactory services provided by ALS which has caused disruption and delays in the courts.

41. If the MoJ retains the contract with ALS or any other supplier, they must demonstrate and provide concrete assurances that will prevent the services from putting public security in jeopardy.

42. As a measure of assurance, NRPSI calls for the MoJ to ratify the arrangements to be robust, efficient and effective to avoid ongoing poor service and public abuse. The key criteria given below will need to be included in the FWA to secure competent interpreting service and public protection.

For high quality standards and qualification based selection—Only use qualified professional interpreters on the NRPSI’s Register.

For professional suitability and technical ability—Set clear recognition of appropriate qualification.

For credibility and accountability—Establish robust complaint resolution and redress procedure.

For real cost effectiveness—Set secure assurance measures for cost control and monitoring procedures.

For efficiency of the process and arrangements—Incorporate KPIs along with independent verification or audit.

For sustainability of the services—Incorporate a detailed transitional trial period which include training of relevant staff and users.

43. Additional long term actions are needed for public protection and to ensure equality and access to public services for those with language barriers. To establish a sustainable interpreting and translating profession, it is necessary to develop a regulated language profession, with a statutory protection of title, supported by standardised systems for selection, training, assessment, registration and good practice. NRPSI has been working with Universities, higher education establishments, professional membership bodies, trade unions, service providers and beneficiaries towards this end. However the three essential requirements needed to ensure quality in interpreting and translation are: political will, standard setting bodies and training programmes.

44. We would like to propose that consideration be given to recommending a draft bill on the interpreting and translating profession which will require the relevant programmes and services to be responsive to the needs of all UK citizens by providing access to quality interpreting and translating services while complying with the requirements of any present or future EU measure on interpretation and translation.

6. The appropriateness of arrangements for monitoring the management of the contract, including the quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered

45. To deliver an effective and efficient outcome, the FWA must include clear guidelines and policies with performance standards and means for monitoring and evaluation outcomes. Applying robust monitoring systems is essential to facilitating cost effective provision of language support.

46. Monitoring performance of public service interpretation and translation services can be clearly defined through KPIs based on both quantitative and qualitative data.

47. Emphasis must be given to ensuring social inclusion for those with limited English proficiency to have equal access to the justice system. Language support monitoring is linked to the monitoring of all components of a service. Hence feedback from service users, stakeholders and public is essential, as are third party independent verifications, which can contribute to obtaining accurate and transparent performance results.

48. The current status of the FWA monitoring and management specifications focus totally on KPI reports based on quantitative data supplied by the Contractor (ALS) which may not be considered as verifiable or reliable. The current structure of the audit is also financially focused.

49. NRPSI recommends that the FWA incorporates additional requirements of KPIs based on qualitative data, including feedback from all relevant stakeholders, and a third party independent service performance verification/audit conducted at appropriate intervals.

Conclusion

50. NRPSI is gravely concerned at the evidenced deterioration in the quality of public service interpretation since the application of the ALS Framework Agreement. This not only relates to the poor quality of services provided by using unqualified interpreters in the Justice system, but also to the long-term sustainability of the profession with the number of highly qualified interpreters leaving the profession resulting in the loss of valuable experience.

51. We emphasise that whilst supporting the need for the MoJ to be more cost effective and efficient by streamlining and outsourcing its language services, the FWA at its current state is not yet an effective or comprehensive resolution. We recommend that the FWA be reviewed with immediate effect, and in particular to recognise and restrict usage to only qualified professional NRPSI registered interpreters in the judicial process in order to affirm high quality standards and much needed public protection.

52. Our recommendations support the development of a sustainable interpretation and translation service which meets the needs of the UK’s culturally and linguistically diverse population and the MoJ’s operational requirements. Adopting our recommendations would demonstrate the MoJ’s and Government’s commitment to equality and individual rights, while acknowledging the key role of interpreters and translators. The MoJ would be setting a benchmark standard for all other government agencies and government funded departments both in the UK and EU to follow.

53. Most importantly, removing language barriers to secure equal access to the legal system for people who lack language proficiency has an overriding social and moral imperative: Justice.

54. NRPSI is happy to provide further information if required and to assist in the review. We believe that, we have a pivotal role in maintaining the appropriate level of quality legal services and public protection and would be happy to work with others to ensure this is achieved in any interim system required while the review of FWA takes place to replace the current ALS contract.

August 2012

Related Information and Links

The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)

(NRPSI)

Professional Interpreters for Justice Campaign

(Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign)

Related press articles

(Linguist Lounge)

Access to Justice

(Lord Woolf Report—Access to Justice)

Prepared 4th February 2013