ALS and court interpreters / Gerichtsdolmetscherschlamassel in England

This story has been around since well before Christmas and no doubt all readers know about it. The British Ministry of Justice decided to save money on court interpreters and instead of taking interpreters from a national register it transferred all jobs to be dealt with by ALS (Applied Language Solutions), a translation and interpreting agency which offered very low rates. Travel expenses were all radically cut. It was one of those situations where an interpreter would be better off staying at home and working as a cleaner.

Channel 4 News had a summary of it recently: Court translation service in crisis after cost-cutting deal.

Around 1,000 interpreters have not been turning up to court because of the reduced pay and expenses offered by ALS. As a result, court hearings reliant on interpreters have been delayed or postponed, at a high cost to the MoJ and the taxpayer.

One of the most serious cases was at Leeds Crown Court on February 22, which led Judge Robert Bartfield to say: “Apart from the waste of time for the jurors, the distress caused to witnesses and the defendant himself, the cost of this now aborted trial is likely to run into thousands of pounds.” …

At Boston Magistrates court, on February 1, Channel 4 News was told that a Polish interpreter turned up to court wearing a hat and overalls and didn’t understand the solicitor when he said they needed to go down to the cells.

The following day at Basildon Magistrates Court, the interpreter did not know what an oath was. It emerged that this was her first time in court, and she was not familiar with the legal language or protocol.

I must admit that my hopes for sensible attitudes to and pay for court interpreting have always been low. But I did not expect the Ministry of Justice to shoot itself in the foot quite so badly that it looks as if the protesting interpreters may succeed in their wishes.

One could write masses on this, but let me just give a link to a couple of

Questions in parliament
. The government seems to take the view that the problems are ‘teething troubles’. Here the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State fails to answer the questions, but he does cite what steps ALS is taking to improve things:

Arranging additional interpreter assessment centres.

Recruitment of additional call handlers, booking administrators and linguist relationship managers.

Introduction of a new administrative team, purely with the function of issuing customer updates.

Secondment of a process management specialist, a management information specialist and an outbound calling team with the brief of further developing the supply of interpreters.

Improvements to the automated booking system.

I love the new job of ‘linguist relationship manager’.

The subject has even hit Mox’s Blog in a cartoon today.

One of the commenters there links to an article about a Czech interpreter who registered her pet rabbit as an interpreter with ALS.

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