Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract

Written evidence from Sarolta Melania Lillywhite

I am an Hungarian interpreter and translator.

I have a Degree in Hungarian Language and Literature from Budapest University, and 20 years experience as a teacher.

I have lived in England since 1957 and have been interpreting and translating unofficially and officially since 1964.

I am on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters – my number is 11104.

Since my registration I have worked in 1 Coroner’s Court, 14 different Crown Courts, 1 Family Court, 37 different Magistrate’s Courts, for H.M. Customs and Excise at 2 different locations, the successor H.M. Revenue and Customs at 2 locations, H.M. Immigration Service, H.M. Inland Revenue, 24 separate Police Constabularies, 5 Health/Hospital Trusts, and 3 different Probation offices. I have been requested to work for these various Courts, Constabularies, Departments, etc on many repeat occasions.

In all of my experience there was never any problem with Courts or other public service users making contact with qualified interpreters in my language up to the number available which – at the beginning - was limited. This was usually done by reference to the National Register in the first instance, and then later by direct contact. We could, and did, suggest a qualified substitute if we were unable to undertake a task ourselves. This caused no problem to the potential users, and often helped them. The system under the National Agreement of 2007 seemed to work smoothly with provision of interpreters in my language. I could, and can, see no good reason for this agreement to have been abandoned.

Turning now to my experiences with Applied Language Solutions. It is true that these relate to times before the award of the Framework Agreement contract but demonstrate that even then, before pressure was brought to bear on their systems, serious errors were made and should have been a warning before the contract was contemplated by the business or awarded to them.

The first adverse report to make concerns a case in Grimsby. I was called upon to interpret for a defendant who had been remanded in custody for one year. When, at the pre-trial conference with his legal representative, his earlier statement was translated back to him he said that the translation was wrong. He complained that the "interpreter", who had apparently been provided by Applied Language Solutions, was a young second generation English born Hungarian girl whose knowledge of the Hungarian language was poor. Very serious mistakes occurred. These were made in translating words and expressing phrases. The whole document had to be revised and rewritten. If the orginal translation had been read into Court as it stood there would have been a miscarriage of justice of which the defendant would have been unaware.

The second incident concerned an appearance at a major court. I was approached by Applied Language Solutions to attend. On arrival I found that an Hungarian colleague was also present and, naturally, we started conversation. It soon became apparent that we had both been called to interpret in the same case. When investigation was carried out it was found that the person for whom we had been called was Spanish, and had no other language. This error involved considerable costs for our attendance, our personal inconvenience, that other proceedings could have been delayed through our unavailability, that the Court was inconvenienced, as well as the person who had no interpreter.

The third incident to which I would refer is, admittedly, hearsay evidence but bears out that the business was not using properly qualified interpreters. The incident was related to me by another Hungarian interpreter colleague. A case was called in the north-west which involved an Hungarian defendant. A young man was sent to interpret by Applied Language Solutions. In conversation it came out that his knowledge of Hungarian was limited to a few words, but he had been asked to do the work, could do with the fee, so went.

The same colleague also warned me that the business was not a good one with which to have any dealings, and advised me to avoid them.

I have read of many similar instances since the enforcement of the Framework Agreement and the attention of my Member of Parliament has been drawn to several of them.

The facts which have become apparent are that Applied Language Solutions are still sending under qualified, under trained, so called "linguists" to interpret at Courts throughout the country. The basic requirement is that they should be NRPSI registered. It seems that many are not. Some, it seems, have not been Criminal Records Bureau checked. Some, it seems, have been shown to fail in Court but have appeared at other hearings without any action being taken by Applied Language Solutions.

They, Applied Language Solutions, do not appear to take action to withdraw such failed interpreters, ensure their re-training, and/or re-assessment (even if an original one was done).

It also appears that their Continuous Professional Development courses are possibly led by persons who are scarcely to be described as qualified interpreters, and it is alleged have been basic lessons which should have been learnt before the students were enrolled upon them. Compare this with another agency which used very experienced police officers to give instruction and advice on how certain cases should be handled.

August 2012

Prepared 5th February 2013