Thursday, 28 March 2013

Statistics on the use of language services in courts and tribunals

Statistical bulletin, 30 January 2012 to 31 January 2013

During the period covered by this bulletin (30 January 2012 to 31 January 2013), there were 6,417 complaints recorded relating to completed requests made. The majority of the complaints came from tribunals (4,050 complaints, 63 per cent), with the most common reason for complaint being that the interpreter was late getting to the assignment (970 complaints, 24 per cent of complaints from tribunals). At criminal courts and prisons, the most common reason for complaint was that there was no interpreter available (35 per cent of complaints by these requesters). 

The complaint rate (the number of complaints divided by the number of completed requests) has increased between August 2012 and January 2013

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Interpreter company wins costs order appeal 
26 March 2013 by Catherine Baksi 

Interpreter company wins costs order appeal
 The company contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide court interpreters has won an appeal against a decision to award a third-party costs order after a sentencing hearing was adjourned due an interpreter’s non-appearance. 
In the Court of Appeal yesterday, the president of the Queen’ Bench Division Sir John Thomas ruled that a single ‘isolated failure’ to provide an interpreter did not amount to ‘serious misconduct’ and that a third-party costs order of £23.25 by Judge Kelson in the Crown court should not have been made. 
The MoJ contract awarded to Applied Language Solutions, now Capita Translation and Interpreting, (CTI) to provide court interpreters began in January last year. It has been the subject of three critical parliamentary and audit reports for its failure to meet performance targets and for failings in the initial procurement process.
The Court of Appeal case concerned a sentencing hearing at Sheffield Crown Court in April last year, which Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service requested a Slovak interpreter to attend. 
The day before the hearing, the sentencing was rescheduled to an earlier time, but the interpreter was not told. The hearing was adjourned due to their non-attendance, and Judge Kelson subsequently made a third-party costs order in favour of prosecuting counsel in the sum of half of their hearing fee - £23.25. 
Kelson found that CTI did not do its job properly as a result of negligence. He said that the appellant had a major responsibility and that courts should not have their time wasted.
 However the Court of Appeal overturned his decision, saying that a ‘single failure’ cannot, when ‘viewed in isolation’, amount to ‘serious misconduct’. 
In this case, it found ‘there was no evidence that the failure was anything other than an isolated failure’ and that ‘there was no evidence of a number of other previous failures by the interpreter in question or failures in the appellant's system’. 
But it said that serious misconduct might arise if there was evidence that the non-attendance resulted from a ‘failure to remedy a defect in the appellant's administrative systems which had caused non-attendance in the past’, or where a particular interpreter had a history of non-attendance. 
The court concluded that a court should not generally make an order ‘without clear evidence of serious misconduct’ or ‘unless there are unusual circumstances which justify the making of an order’. 
Thomas noted: ‘Although the sum in issue in this appeal was only £23.25, it raised an important point as to the circumstances in which a court could exercise its power to make a third-party costs order where a private contractor has been given the responsibility of performing duties hitherto performed by the state.’ 
In the course of the judgment he observed: ‘Having efficient systems and good and reliable interpreters is expensive. A contractor cannot be allowed to maximise its profit or reduce its loss in the context of court proceedings by not having in place the best systems and the best interpreters. It cannot transfer its costs of failing to do so to the CPS or the defence.’ 
Rejecting CTI’s argument that it was obliged to provide interpreters in only 98% of bookings – its contractual performance target - Thomas said CTI is providing ‘an integral part of the state’s obligations’ and it must discharge that duty.  
He said: ‘The provision of an interpreter where either a witness or a defendant does not speak English (or Welsh), is essential. Without one a case cannot proceed. 
‘It is simply no use to a court having an interpreter there on 98% of occasions when interpreters are required, because if an interpreter is required justice cannot be done without one and a case cannot proceed. An interpreter is required on 100% of such occasions.’ 
Courts minister Helen Grant said: ‘There has been a dramatic improvement in the interpreter contract since the early months, with the vast majority of bookings now being completed and a major reduction in complaints. Our changes have saved taxpayers £15m this year. 
‘We are aware performance dipped very slightly this January when changes were made to interpreters' travel allowances and we are taking steps with the contractor to address this and drive further improvement.’ 

Full judgment:

Monday, 25 March 2013

PQs - 25 March 2013

25 March 2013
Courts: Translation Services

Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what estimate he has made of the savings to his Department as a result of the implementation of the ALS/Capita contract for court translation and interpreting services.

Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald, Conservative)
The estimate of savings under the language services call-off contract with Capita is based on the pre-contract spend of approximately £30 million each year. This covers courts, tribunals and the National Offender Management Service.
The savings in the first year of the contract's operation are estimated at £15 million.

25 March 2013
Courts: Translation Services

Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will review (a) how many people have been wrongly convicted and (b) the number of potentially guilty people acquitted as a result of errors by translators employed under the ALS/Capita contract; and if he will make a statement.

Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald, Conservative)
We have no plan at present to undertake any review of convictions or acquittals in interpreter court cases.
The judiciary is responsible for ensuring that defendants get a fair hearing. If there are any issues with interpretation the judge will stop the proceedings and resolve those issues. The Ministry of Justice monitors performance under the contract, which has an associated complaints system. Only a very small proportion of complaints relate to the quality of the interpreter. We have received no complaints that wrong convictions have been made as a result of problems with interpreters.

R -v- Applied Language Solutions Ltd (25 March 2013)

R -v- Applied Language Solutions Ltd
25 March 2013 | Court of Appeal | Criminal

Neutral Citation Number: [2013] EWCA Crim 326
Case no: 2012/05567/b5
25 March 2013
In the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
On appeal from the Crown Court at Sheffield
His Honour Judge Kelson QC
President of the Queen’s Bench Division
Mrs Justice Swift
Mr Justice Cranston
R -Respondent
– and –
Applied Language Solutions Ltd (now known as Capita Translation and Interpreting Ltd) – Appellant

Friday, 22 March 2013

Budget fallout: running into a brick wall 
22 March 2013 
"Desperation to reduce outgoings has already led to the fiasco of the court interpreters’ contract, which is supposed to deliver £50m savings every year but which has seen nothing but trouble since its inception in February 2012."