Defence solicitors warn MoJ over interpreter outsourcing
Criminal defence solicitors have urged the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the standard of interpreters does not deteriorate as a result of cost-cutting plans to outsource translation services across the criminal justice system.
The MoJ has begun a procurement exercise that will see private companies contracting to provide interpretation services to the Crown Prosecution Service, probation service, prisons, police and other agencies. The MoJ will provide a national template for the contracts and will oversee the process.
These services are currently provided under a national agreement with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and its sign language equivalent.
Ian Kelcey, chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said: ‘In principle, the desire to save money by outsourcing cannot be criticised… but what no one wants to see is a diminution in standards that will affect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.’
He urged the MoJ to ensure that minimum standards are put in place.
An MoJ spokeswoman said the procurement process was ‘ongoing’ and it would shortly be seeking stakeholders’ views.
Last month, solicitors raised concern over an alleged decline in the standard of interpretation services provided to detainees in custody in four north-west police areas, after the police forces outsourced their interpreting services.
The Professional Interpreters Alliance (PIA) began judicial review proceedings of police authorities in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria, which entered the contracts with translation provider Applied Language Solutions (ALS), without conducting race equality impact assessments.
The forces have now quashed the contracts with ALS, after accepting that they had failed to undertake the statutory impact assessments. A police spokesman said the forces are in consultation with PIA about how they will deliver interpretation services in future.
ALS chief executive Gavin Wheeldon denied there had been any fall in standards after his agency won the contracts. He said ALS’s contract with Greater Manchester Police had reduced its £1.3m bill for interpretation services by 50-60%, while maintaining quality and reducing police administration.
‘I believe we offer a far superior service at a fraction of the cost to the old system of engaging individual translators, which will save front-line jobs,’ he said.
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