Court case adjournments continue ‘due to interpreters’ failure to attend’

19/06/2013 | Hayley

The failure of interpreters to turn up for court hearings has resulted in the adjournment of two major trials in recent weeks.

In May, the trial of murder suspect Anxiang Du was adjourned for two months after the languages firm charged with sending a Mandarin interpreter to translate for him in court failed to do so. Indeed, high court judge Julian Flax revealed that the reason for the interpreter’s absence was that the firm, which has not been named, said it would “not make enough money” from the pre-trial hearing. As a result, the company decided it was not worth sending an interpreter to translate on behalf of the suspect.

Mr Justice Flax went on to reveal that the language services provider was then asked again to send an interpreter. Although on this second occasion they agreed to, the interpreter never arrived. The judge concluded it would be “completely unfair” to the suspect to continue without an interpreter there.

Du is accused of murdering a Nottingham family of four in their home in April 2011. He was arrested in Tangier, Morocco and extradited to the UK following a 15-month manhunt.

His trial was originally scheduled for August but has now been put back to November following a rescheduled plea hearing in July. The Northampton Chronicle quoted Mr Justice Flax as saying: “To say that the presiding judge of the court is annoyed about this is an understatement,” and added that he would be demanding a written explanation from the company in question.

It would seem this is not an isolated case, as this month a death by dangerous driving hearing was delayed because an interpreter failed to show up. The Daily Post reported that defendant Gytis Masiulis speaks only a few words of English so there was no option but to put the case back when no one arrived to translate for him.

A Lithuanian interpreter had been booked to work at the hearing at Flintshire Magistrates Court in Mold, where it was expected the defendant would be referred to Crown Court so bail could be discussed. Instead, a solicitor who happened to be in court had to call her husband as he worked with a Lithuanian national. This individual then spoke to the defendant in the dock, via the solicitor’s mobile phone, following which Masiulis was remanded in custody for a further 24 hours.

His defence solicitor Phillip Lloyd Jones described the fiasco as a “total nightmare”. The Daily Post alleged the incident was the “latest in a series of complaints by courts in the recent past about the quality of the translation services”.

In January 2012, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) awarded a five-year contract to Applied Language Solutions (ALS) to provide all its interpreting services. ALS was later acquired by Capita. In March, Language Insight reported that there had been numerous issues blighting court interpreting services provided in the UK since then.

The MOJ hoped the contract would save it £15 million, but a Justice Select Committee report released in February revealed that since the contract was awarded several trials had been cancelled due to interpreters not turning up. Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith went so far as to call the handling of language services in court “nothing short of shambolic”.

In addition to some interpreters failing to attend hearings, the report also raised concerns about standards being lowered in order to take on a wider net of linguists – some of whom may not be adequately experienced or qualified for the job of courtroom interpreting.

At the House of Commons this April, MP and Under-Secretary of State for Justice Helen Grant responded to the report, revealing that changes would be put in place that would impact on the take-home pay of interpreters in an effort to attract more of the professionals to register to work for Capita. She claimed these alterations would help to address concerns raised by interpreters who had criticised the original contract.

Among the new incentives, Capita announced the decision to pay interpreters in 15-minute chunks, at a rate that reflects their qualifications tier, and to extend the use of mileage payments, while cancellation fees will also be introduced to cover linguists in the event a case is cancelled through no fault of their own. Grant concluded that efforts to further improve the performance of the Capita contract would be ongoing.

Earlier this month, RPSI Linguist Lounge revealed it had been sent an email by Capita to share on its site encouraging interpreters to accept the company’s new terms and conditions. However, Linguist Lounge member Yelena noted there were already concerns the terms might be “too stringent” and that it would be interesting to see the outcome if significant numbers of linguists refuse to agree to the new conditions.

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