Court Interpreting Services Under Threat From New Framework Agreement

27/10/2011 | Marketing Team

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.

Controversy

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.

Less pay

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.

Image credit: http://underclassing.net/

2 Replies to “Court Interpreting Services Under Threat From New Framework Agreement”

  1. The news this week that 60% of interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreting are refusing to carry out work under the Ministry of Justice’s new language services contract is concerning, but not surprising.
    The unofficial strike comes as a direct response to slashed rates of pay and fewer supporting arrangements, such as reimbursement for travel expenses, with potentially disastrous implications. The increasing demand for interpreting services but fewer qualified interpreters willing to work for the offered rates means that thousands of people every year could be denied access to a fair trial, which is unacceptable.
    It is all down to the Ministry of Justice’s newly contracted language services provider, Applied Language Solutions, promising to cut the Ministry’s annual spending on interpreting by a third. Yes, government cuts may be necessary in these hard times, but rather than being a positive step this just serves to highlight a total disregard for the complexity and difficulty of interpreting. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the country’s best interpreters will not be willing to work for pennies, so it seems that the only concern is to maintain a more-than-healthy profit margin, or a reduced budget, even if it means sacrificing quality by working with less qualified linguists.
    We spoke to one of our regular Polish interpreters who said “I believe the British justice system to be one of the best, if not the best, in the world and a model that has been copied the world over, however, the fiasco that is the Frame Work Agreement seriously undermines this. I, for one, am not prepared to work for less than the minimum wage so I have been replaced by unqualified, unvetted, inexperienced amateurs that do not have a clue what to do, how to behave and frankly do not have the language skills to undertake something this serious.”
    This lowering of standards is exactly the reason that my business partner and I decided to set up Veritas Language Solutions three years ago. Whilst studying for a degree in translation we were shocked to discover that the translation industry had become a hotbed for malpractice and low standards. Companies were screaming out for help after receiving poor service time and time again. It became our mission to raise the bar and improve standards across the entire industry.
    The crux of the matter is that legal interpreting is one of the most demanding professions out there, and it requires someone who possesses a range of different language and presentation skills, who has undergone extensive training and who has an in-depth knowledge of the legal system. People who fit this bill are rare and valuable, and should be treated as such.
    It is the links we make with these highly qualified individuals that define our service. TRUST is a hugely important part of the translation industry, since customers and staff members alike are dealing with multiple languages and facing communication barriers on a daily basis. Yet trust can’t be built without a mutually respectful relationship between parties. The simple answer, which we apply to all aspects of our business, is to build strong relationships with our suppliers. They are so central to what we do.
    We get to know our linguists, treating them like colleagues rather than suppliers. We build personal relationships, finding out about our linguists’ experiences and hobbies outside of their work. When our linguists get married, or give birth to their first child, they send us photos. We recognise the hard work of our linguists through our “Translator of the Month” feature on our blog, and we give linguists the opportunity to contribute their ideas and articles for our blog, social network sites and other publications. All this helps our linguists know that they are valued, and in return we know that they will go out of their way to ensure their work is of the highest possible standard.
    We always keep our charge out rates to a minimum, but do so without ever sacrificing on quality. We know that the best translators and interpreters charge more, and that those who offer the lowest rates are likely to have little experience or poor language skills. So for us, it’s all about the balance between offering an affordable service to our own customers, and ensuring our linguists can put food on their tables!
    Our message to the Ministry of Justice – don’t make the mistake of undervaluing language services. The consequences of poor interpreting – disputes, appeals, wrongful convictions and acquittals – could be disastrous.”

    • Thank you for the very informative comment guys. As a fellow language services peer, I completely agree with your comments about the rarity of qualified, experienced and dedicated language professionals, and their value as such. The contract between the MoJ and ALS as it currently stands is obviously not working, but what is the solution?

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