Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the Law Society of England and Wales

JUSTICE SELECT COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO INTERPRETATION AND TRANSLATION SERVICES AND THE APPLIED LANGUAGE SOLUTIONS CONTRACT

The Law Society of England and Wales (“The Society”) is the professional body for the solicitors’ profession in England and Wales, representing over 150,000 registered legal practitioners. The Society represents the profession to parliament, government and the regulatory bodies and has a public interest in the reform of the law.

1. The Law Society is aware of the controversy in relation to the provision of interpreters since the single contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS) came into effect in February 2012. While the Society has not received significant concerns from a wide spectrum of the profession, the Society is aware that there were significant problems in the criminal courts, in particular, in first few months of the operation of the new arrangements.

2. The Government has a clear duty to ensure that all non-English speaking people who come into contact with the justice system are able to understand and participate in interviews and court proceedings. The efficient delivery of translation services is vital for the smooth running of the justice system. It is also important for this service to be delivered in as cost-effective a way as possible, taking into account the need for terms and conditions that include the provision of sufficiently well-qualified interpreters to ensure adequate coverage where necessary. Clearly, there is a significant risk of miscarriages of justice occurring where the standard of interpretation is inadequate.

3. The Society’s members rely on language interpreters to communicate with their non-English speaking clients, as well as sign language interpreters for clients impaired of hearing. Language interpreters are particularly important in the areas of crime and immigration.

4. The new ALS arrangements are not yet available to solicitors who require an interpreter for their meetings with clients outside police stations and courts, and the old “National Agreement” continues to apply in this context. However, the Society is aware of reports in the media suggesting that the new arrangements to obtain interpreter services for courts and tribunal hearings have meant that a number of courts, legal practitioners and their clients have been significantly affected by ALS interpreters being late for hearings or not appearing at all. The Society is also aware of instances where an interpreter has attended, but they have been unsuitable for the particular assignment.

5. On the announcement of the Committee’s inquiry in July, the Society sought information from its members about the extent of the problem. Submissions were received from four members, three of whom practise in the criminal jurisdiction, and one who is an immigration and asylum solicitor. All four submissions are appended to this memorandum.

6. The Society does not have sufficient evidence to take a view on whether or not there is a major structural problem caused by the ALS contract. However, it is clear that there have been some problems which have caused individual distress, unnecessary adjournments and inconvenience and which suggest that there may be a wider difficulty. The Society is not aware of problems such as these occurring prior to the change in the arrangements.

7. The Society cannot comment on the reasons for the problems, but would endorse concerns, in principle, about the inherent risk in granting a monopoly to a single provider of language services. In particular, the submissions of Law Society members suggest that the Committee may wish to look at:

7.1The contract and service level agreement with ALS.

7.2The procedures used by ALS for recruiting and assessing the competence of their interpreters.

7.3The extent to which ALS is actually able to meet the needs of the justice system.

7.4Its overall performance compared with the previous system.

APPENDIX 1

SUBMISSION BY OLIVER BARRETT OF RICHARD BROWN AND CO.

Peterborough Crown Court

Clients charged with robbery. Polish national. Applied Language Solutions supplied interpreter for Plea and Case Management Hearing at Peterborough Crown Court on the 13 February 2012.

Subsequent to hearing, attended prison with National Register of Public Service registered interpreter as had been receiving letters from client indicating there had been a problem with the interpreter at the Plea and Case Management Hearing.

When spoke to client in custody regarding this he said he had not understood what had happened at court as the interpreter supplied had actually translated very little of what was being said at the hearing. They only translated the odd sentence of what the advocates and Judge were saying but without any real order and it did not make much sense.

When he asked the interpreter what was going on the interpreter told him that they could not follow the hearing and so they could not tell him.

Client was therefore unaware of what was going on with his case or that a bail application had been made on his behalf as the interpreter was not translating what was happening at the hearing.

At trial on the 27 June 2012 Applied Language Solutions sent another interpreter.

Interpreter had to be advised several times in conference to actually translate what the barrister was saying to the client.

When the trial commenced it became clear the interpreter was not translating what was happening.

The Judge had to tell her that her job was to interpret everything that was said in court so that the defendant understood what was going on.

30 August 2012, Peterborough Magistrates Court

Client was a Latvian national. 20 years old. Charged with assault and criminal damage. One previous conviction. Had been refused bail by the police and placed before the Magistrates. Applied Language Solutions unable to supply Latvian interpreter. Defence advocate unable to get proper instructions from the client regarding his plea and more particularly bail. In the end he had to be remanded in custody overnight.

The reason for this was that the defence were unable to get any real information out of him with the limited English he spoke as to a bail address or as to his plea.

The following day a Latvian interpreter did attend. Instructions regarding bail address were obtained and the client was then granted bail and released.

However that same day there was another case before the court involving a prisoner being brought from the Police Station. On this occasion it was a Lithuanian. Once again Applied Language Solutions could not supply an interpreter. The prisoner had to be remanded over night until the following day when Applied Language Solutions said they would hopefully be able to get a Lithuanian interpreter to court.

25 June 2012, Peterborough Magistrates Court

Client Polish national arrested for breach of bail conditions. Applied Language Solutions could not provide a Polish interpreter. Instead they sent a Russian interpreter who spoke a degree of Polish on the basis that he would have to be good enough.

The interpreter did advise the defence and the court that Polish was not his first language but as long as it was kept simple he should be able to manage.

Peterborough Magistrates Court

Polish national. Initially charged with common assault and bailed to court on the 2 March 2012. No interpreter attends.

Case adjourned.

12 March 2012 the client bailed to attend court at 10.00 am. No interpreter attends. Message that interpreter will be available at 2.00 pm. Court tried to explain to client that he should come back at 2.00 pm but without the benefit of an interpreter it was unclear whether he understood. At 2.00 pm the client fails to appear.

Case adjourned to the 16 March 2012 to tie in with another matter.

Later in the same case on the 13 April 2012. Client’s case listed at 11.30 am. Interpreter attends but said they are only booked for 30 minutes despite the court having told Applied Language Solutions the interpreter may be required for much longer than that.

After 30 minutes interpreter walked out of court to attend another booking before client’s case was heard.

When case called on no interpreter in attendance. Situation explained to court. Case adjourned to another date in the hope that an interpreter would actually attend and remain long enough to deal with the case on that occasion.

16 April 2012

Applied Language Solutions contacted to provide a Slovak interpreter. They indicated they would arrange for one to be there that day.

At lunch time no sign of interpreter.

At 3.00 pm court telephone interpreter assigned who explained there had been no chance of getting into Peterborough that day because of the traffic conditions. Case therefore had to be adjourned for a week to a time when an interpreter was going to be available.

APPENDIX 2

SUBMISSION BY ISH HUSSAIN, MULLENDER LAW

Dear Sir,

Staines Magistrates Court booked an interpreter on the 20 July 2012 at the end of a court session to attend court on the 23 July 2012. This was done through the sole contracting agents, Applied Language Solutions. On the 23 July 2012, after numerous attempts by the court no interpreter attended or was sent. The difficulty the court encountered was that it was not allowed to instruct an alternative interpreter of its own choosing without booking one through this agency. As a result this had a severe impact on the case as the matter had to be adjourned for an additional nine days because the court was not confident that the defendant would understand the implications of a sentence imposed without an interpreter being present. This also meant that the defendant had to spend an additional nine days on remand as a result through no fault of his own but that of the agency. Of course, matters have now been resolved.

Nonetheless, it is clear that by giving one agency sole contract is risky because : 1) It allows complete monopoly by that organisation taking away fair competition by other organisation; 2) Services delievered by an organsitaion with a complete monopoly will often decline overtime as there profit margins are not determined by the level of service provided or efficency as shown in the above example; and 3) In terms of interpreters, what happens to them should they have a fall out with the agency? what alternatives do they have?

Ish Hussain, Mullender Law

APPENDIX 3

SUBMISSION BY ANNETTE ELDER, ELDER RAHIMI SOLICITORS

I would like to respond to this. We are a Chambers ranked firm of solicitors specialising in immigration and asylum. The bulk of our clients are legally aided. We have on average 10-20 appeal hearings listed each week before the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, mainly in London but also before the regional Courts.

Since the provision of interpreters at the Immigration and Asylum Chamber was taken over by Applied Language Solutions the quality of interpreters has dropped significantly and unacceptably given the serious issues being determined by the Immigration and Asylum Chamber (IAC). In addition to the distress caused to our clients, the inconvenience to the Tribunal and our already over stretched staff, the costs to the Legal Services Commission (LSC) are also higher. We have no option now but to obtain LSC funding for an independent interpreter to attend all hearings as the quality of the interpreters at the IAC cannot be relied on. Additionally a significant number of hearings adjourn due to problems with the interpreter becoming evident. This increases to the costs to the legal aid fund, in addition to the increased costs to the Ministry of Justice relating to adjournment of hearings.

A simple and representative example is the case of appeal—AA/05798.2012. The full hearing of this asylum appeal was listed at the Taylor House hearing centre on 20 July 2012. A Lingala interpreter had been booked. Lingala is only spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An asylum appeal is a stressful matter where the Appellant is likely to have to give oral evidence of torture, mistreatment, loss of family members etc. Our clients are often extremely vulnerable in the run up to hearings. As far as possible so as to minimise this stress we do what we can to ensure that hearings are effective and that adjournments are not needed. Early on in the hearing the client made clear that she was having problems with the interpreter who was using many French words. Not all DRC nationals speak French, in fact probably the majority do not. The interpreter was asked not to use French words. However shortly it became clear that the interpreter could not interpret adequately and the hearing was stopped. Investigation disclosed that the interpreter was in fact from Cameroon. Nowhere in Cameroon is Lingala spoken. Clearly the view had been taken that an interpreter from any Francophone African country would do. The hearing was adjourned and has been re-listed for 6 August 2012.

This would not have happened in the past at the IAC. The quality of the Lingala interpreters was generally high and we would not have routinely booked an independent interpreter to attend the hearing. Usually the fee for this is £80-£120 depending on how long the hearing lasts. The additional cost to the legal aid fund in this case due to the Applied Language Solutions contract is likely to be in the region of; 2 x independent interpreter fees estimated at £100—so £200, the additional hearing fee paid by the LSC due to the adjourned hearing £175—the additional travel of our advocate—say £10, so a total of roughly £400 on the basis that the next hearing of the appeal is effective. There is of course the additional costs to this firm in organising the adjourned hearing and dealing with the client and advocate in relation to it, to the IAC in organising the adjourned hearing, the cost to the National Asylum Support Service of funding the appellant’s travel to the IAC for the additional hearing and generally the stress to the client.

I could provide you with many other similar examples. The routine booking of Farsi interpreters when a Dari interpreter is requested—these are not the same languages! Afghan Pashu interpreters for Baloch Pashtu speakers—they can barely understand each other!

From the point of view of the interpreters affected by the Applied Language Solutions contract, many of the highly skilled and experienced interpreters that this firm has worked with over the last decade are no longer able to make a living. They are asked to work for frankly insulting rates of pay by Applied Language Solutions. There is a complete lack of transparency and fairness in the Applied Language Solutions procedures. Interpreters of similar levels of experience are being paid different rates, individual interpreters who have agreed to work with Applied Language Solutions have negotiated individual rates of pay above the advertised Applied Language Solutions rates etc.

Years of effort went into trying to improve the quality of interpreters for this firm’s client group, at United Kingdom Border Agency and at the Tribunal. Interpreters were encouraged to train and to register with professional bodies. Many paid large sums to obtain the necessary qualifications and registrations. All prisons now insist that registered interpreters are used on visits as do all best practice standards. These requirements did improve the quality of the interpreter pool and were positive. The move to the Applied Language Solutions contract reverses all these gains. The Applied Language Solutions requirements for the interpreters they use are frankly laughable. We are returning to a situation of unskilled and inexperienced interpreters being used which is simply unacceptable and shameful in the context of particularly asylum and human rights protection cases.

Please include the above in your consideration of this issue.

Annette Elder, Elder Rahimi Solicitors

APPENDIX 4

RECENT CASE AT BRISTOL CROWN COURT

One of the Society’s leading members was recently appearing in the Crown Court at Bristol representing a Spanish national, charged with importing four kilos of cocaine. The court had requested a Spanish interpreter, for what was, fortunately, a relatively straight forward Plea and Case Management Hearing, rather than a full trial. After a few minutes of the case commencing, the defendant started to make utterances in Spanish, which fortunately both the solicitor and the judge, with their basic Spanish understood as to be him saying that he could not understand the interpreter. On enquiry, that was perhaps not surprising, because Applied Language Solutions had sent a Portuguese interpreter.

Prepared 4th February 2013