Justice CommitteeSupplementary written evidence from Dr Francis Beresford

I would like to inform you of a very significant error in the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on the Language Services Contract (the Contract). The NAO modelling gave reduction in interpreter pay as initially 20% dropping to 8% after alterations to the terms. This is unfortunately a gross underestimate and the actual figures are a reduction in 28–73% for court work and 33–43% for tribunal work depending on the length of the assignment and the amount of travel, details are given in the Appendix below. Part of the explanation for the inaccurate figures is clear from the Appendix to the NAO report which shows that they have been given incorrect rates to work on as they exclude travel time, travel expenses and parking all of which were paid routinely prior to the Contract. I believe their modelling was also done on police work and not court work which is likely to have had an effect. The NAO have been informed of the error.

This reduction in pay above explains why 87% of interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) have refused to work under the new contract, and I believe this percentage has now risen further. The above reduction also explains where the 20–30% savings (£12 million–£18 million on a £60 million spend) expected by the Ministry of Justice have come from since these estimates did not include any savings on administration and excluded agency administration and profits.

These reductions also have very significant implications for the ability of the Contract to provide the standard of interpreting required. The Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice recommended in 1993 that only trained and qualified interpreters be used in court and in response the NRPSI was established in 1994 along with the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI). In 1998 the Trials Issues Group recommended the exclusive use of National Register Interpreters for criminal investigations and court proceedings and this was confirmed by the Auld Report in 2001 which recommended “there should be a review of the levels of payment to interpreters with a view to encouraging more and the best qualified to undertake this work and to establishing a national scale of pay”. These reports effectively created two tiers of interpreters in this country: those with the linguistic and academic ability to study and master the interpreting of complex legal discourse who could therefore pass the demanding DPSI; and those who could not. The latter tend to do medical or other less demanding interpreting work at a much lower rate of pay.

From this it can be seen that by dramatically reducing pay as above and by removing the DPSI as a requirement for most court interpreting the Contract has saved money by simply downgrading the standard of legal interpreting, employing mostly untrained and lower skilled interpreters who are willing to work for a concomitantly lower rate of pay. Unfortunately this has also reversed the recommendations of three previous reports into interpreting in the Justice system and puts back standards of justice for non-English speakers by 20 years. This state of affairs cannot be reversed under the Contract as skilled linguists can get better paid work elsewhere.

November 2012

Prepared 4th February 2013