Court Interpreting Services Under Threat From New Framework Agreement
Court interpreters up and down the country are protesting about the government’s latest plans – to outsource all court interpreting services to one agency, Applied Language Solutions (ALS).
In an ongoing effort to save time and money, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) began a 12 month procurement process to find an agency that could streamline the system of finding and booking court interpreters. ALS was successful in its tender to the MoJ and selected as the sole provider of legal interpreting and court interpreting services. This new agreement will begin on 1 October.
Controversially, the new framework agreement will result in the abolition of the National Agreement on the Engagement of Interpreters in Criminal Proceedings and the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. The former was only launched in 2001 to give non-English speaking victims and defendants the right to a fair trial, and it stipulates that all court interpreters should be registered on the independently verified NRPSI. Now, all court interpreters must register with a new national database managed by ALS itself.
Many court interpreters are outraged at this development, and have begun plans for mass protests and walk outs. They are worried that their status as agency workers will remove any freedom they had to negotiate for better pay, and fear that this will result in poorer interpreting standards and fewer security safeguards which could lead to miscarriages of justice.
Under the new plans, ALS requires all court interpreters to undertake a test run by independent assessors, at the cost of £100. On top of this, the MoJ will no longer provide funding for travel and accommodation costs, meaning the new three-tiered flat rate fees paid by ALS (£16, £20 and £22 per hour) will be the maximum that any court interpreter could expect to earn, regardless of their qualification or experience. This could result in some court interpreters taking home less than the national minimum wage, whereas before they could look to earn up to £85 per hour plus expenses.
Guillermo Makin, of the Society for Public Service Interpreting Ltd, is against the new measures because: “Court interpreting services will be farmed out to a private monopoly that will also regulate the profession.” He says that: “Interpreter organisations have repeatedly offered the Ministry of Justice a plan in writing that would not increase expenditure but would cut it. There is a precedent”.
Polish translator Mateusz Kiecz said: “A lot of professional and experienced linguists around the country are now gathering for walkouts to protest against this contract as it will have a detrimental effect on delivery of justice for minorities. This could lead to inexperienced and unqualified people working within the delicate environment as the Criminal Justice System”, he said.