‘No Access to Justice’ Under Capita/ALS’s MoJ Contract

28/01/2013 | Hayley

One year on from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) rolling out its five-year contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), one blogger has offered their critique on the service to date.

Jennifer Smith, a UK sign language interpreter and author of the blog Anonymous Interpreters, says that Capita appears to be “holding on” to the contract for now, after acquiring ALS following its win of the £300 million contract. However, its latest move – to slash travel expenses – has been met with “grumblings” from interpreters, says Ms Smith.

Indeed, she claims travel costs were among the only benefits of working under the contract and that now these have been cut to 20p per mile some of the most highly-qualified interpreters are unlikely to be enticed. “The next chapter in this story will surely be that no-one will work for Capita at the proposed rates,” she explains.

While the contract does not appear to be working well for interpreters, the notion of justice may also be suffering. Ms Smith says Capita calls its interpreters “qualified” but offers no further details on what organisations they are registered with, what their minimum level of qualification is, what Capita’s Codes of Conduct are or whether the interpreters it sends to court are covered by professional indemnity insurance.

In an evidence session heard by the Justice Select Committee last October, it emerged that ALS was only able to supply an interpreter for 58 per cent of court hearings in February 2012 against a target of 98 per cent. In order to fill these gaps, Ms Smith notes that people who are not full-time interpreters have been called upon to sit in on hearings, such as hotel staff who speak the necessary language. Other interpreters were found not to have the training or qualifications expected of a court interpreter and even to not speak the languages they claimed they could.

It is not only language interpreting that is affected by the contract but also sign language interpreting. “This is not access to justice for deaf people and especially not for speakers of other languages,” Ms Smith says.

Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times, Neil Saunders, of Saunders, Goodin and Riddleston in Ipswich, calls the interpreting service the courts have received from Capita “patchy”. Dino Barricella, of Barricella, Hughes and Marchant in Ipswich, echoes these comments and even reveals that in cases where an interpreter has not turned up he has had to use Google Translate in order to get his message across to a client in court.

“I think we were spoilt before the new system and didn’t really appreciate what a good service we had. While interpreters are turning up now, they clearly don’t know much about the court procedure,” Mr Barricella explains. Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that ALS earned £8.5 million from the contract in 2012, and lost £1,464 as a result of service credits for not supplying the service it had promised.

Capita claims cutting its mileage rate has not impacted upon the number of interpreters it is recruiting and expects to move into profit this year.

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