MoJ in line of fire over interpreters contract
The Ministry of Justice could face a legal challenge to its new cost-cutting arrangements for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector.
In a move expected to save at least £18m annually on its current £60m spend, the MoJ announced last week that is to contract with one supplier to provide language services to criminal justice agencies.
After a 12-month procurement process, Manchester-based Applied Language Solutions (ALS) has been awarded the contract to provide the services for the next five years, beginning as early as September.
Under the agreement, it will provide services for HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the National Offender Management Service.
The police and other organisations will also be able to use its services under the same framework agreement.
However, some professional organisations representing interpreters and translators have voiced concerns about the change and the consultation process leading up to it, and the quality standards of interpreters used by ALS.
A spokeswoman for one group, Professional Interpreters Alliance (PIA), said it is ‘seeking advice’ on what legal action it can take to challenge the MoJ’s decision.
To date, translation and interpretation services have been provided under a national agreement, which requires qualified interpreters to be registered with the Register of Public Service Interpreters (RPSI) and its sign-language equivalent.
Opponents of the new scheme, which will render the RPSI defunct, say it will lower the quality of language services provided.
They also claim the consultation process was conducted too quickly, and that the views of many respondents were ignored.
In a joint paper sent to the MoJ, seven interpreters’ groups including PIA, suggest that scrapping the national agreement is ‘unlawful’ and that the new arrangements are ‘procedurally flawed’ because no equality impact assessment was carried out until very late in the process.
They question the scale of savings that the MoJ will make, saying the figures are not based on any evidence.
The PIA spokeswoman also questioned the standards of service provided by interpreters employed by ALS.
Earlier this year, the group sought a judicial review of a move by four police forces to outsource their interpretation services in an exclusive contract with ALS.
The police admitted they had not conducted a proper impact assessment.
In a letter to stakeholders following the consultation on the new framework agreement, the MoJ said it had considered all responses, but did not share concerns that the new scheme would lower standards.
An ALS spokeswoman said: ‘ALS has demonstrated that it has the experience and the ability to deliver a reliable, quality service.
‘There will always be rare occasions where it is difficult to find an interpreter at short notice, due to location or a specific language demand – and this is unavoidable regardless of the service provider.
‘However, our fulfilment rates to date have been excellent and are not a source of concern for our existing customers.
‘From the official contract award date, quality control measures will be ascertained through an external and completely independent assessment process, developed and delivered by independent institutions.
‘All interpreters currently working or planning to work in criminal justice settings will be required to have completed this assessment process successfully, which we believe will eliminate any risk of poor quality interpreting, which has been a concern to the profession for many years… All interpreters will [also] be required to complete annual continuing professional development work.’