Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Rt Hon Lord Justice Goldring, former Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales

Thank you for your letter of 29 November in which you requested my assistance with the Justice Committee’s current inquiry on interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions (ALS) contract.

In particular, you asked for my assessment of the quality of service provided by those interpreters that have been booked recently under the ALS contract, and my view on whether those service levels gave any cause for concern in the ability of the judiciary and the courts to service the interests of justice.

My overall impression is that, in both the courts and tribunals, there has been substantial improvement from when the contract first came into force. There is no doubt that a great deal of work has been done by HMCTS to improve the situation. That is reflected by the fact I have recently agreed that all bookings in all magistrates’ courts in the North West and Midlands should be done through ALS. I understand that the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) has made similar arrangements in two of its centres.

The following areas of concern have been brought to my attention.

Courts

(1)Under the scheme, interpreters are booked and paid for only from the moment that the case is listed. This means that they no longer arrive early to assist in pre-hearing conferences and there is often a delay whilst final instructions are taken. There have also been several complaints about interpreters arriving late to court.

(2)I have received comments that the quality of the ALS interpreters is variable. On a handful of occasions, juries at XXXX Crown Court have been discharged due to the inadequacy of the interpreter. More common is a lack of understanding of court procedures. When, as sometimes happens, judges have noted no interpretation taking place in the dock, the interpreters have responded either that they will tell the defendant everything at the end of the case, or that they did not want to make a noise. That of course is something that, once noticed, can immediately be rectified.

(3)There are reported difficulties in obtaining an interpreter at short notice. For some less frequently spoken languages, ALS has not been able to confirm that they will provide an interpreter when required. XXXX Crown Court List Office has had to find an interpreter from the national register.

(4)There is a lack of continuity in the system. For example, when a troubled defendant has built up a rapport with an interpreter, it would be helpful if there were a means of ensuring that the same interpreter attends subsequent hearings.

Tribunals

(1)From the information I have, I believe performance in the tribunals may be less consistent than in courts. While many tribunals fill all their bookings with ALS successfully, there are some where performance is significantly worse.

(2)As in the courts, there are still concerns about quality.

(3)There are complaints from the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal about the late attendance of interpreters.

(4)The general view of the tribunals is that the new arrangements are not yet as reliable as the old arrangements (which were through a Tribunals Interpreters Panel rather than the National Agreement as in the courts).

In short, there has been a significant improvement in the provision of interpreting services from the early days of the ALS contract. That said, there are still some issues to be resolved. There is now an HMCTS Interpreters’ Contract Project Board which is working to manage the contract. There are two judicial representatives on it.

December 2012

Prepared 4th February 2013