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Interpreters – a duff contract?

Penelope Gibbs
30 May 2014

When I was a magistrate,  interpreters were frequent used to aid defendant, witness or both.  Occasionally there were problems with interpreters being late or not turning up, but not often. At that time, interpreters were booked by each court, using a local list of tried and trusted professionals. They were contracted for a half day at a time.   A few years ago it was decided that too much was being spent on interpreters, and that a national interpreter contract should be put out to tender.  This was a fiasco at the beginning, with the contract being awarded to a tiny company that could not cope but, more worryingly, the problems of interpreters not turning up do not appear to have eased much.  Lord Justice Munby, the head of the family division, summoned Capita (the current contractor) last week to explain why they couldn’t provide Slovak interpreters for a final adoption hearing. The excuses were exceedingly limp, and revealed a totally inadequate contract whereby interpreters can cancel bookings without penalty, where Capita informs the court of their inability to provide interpreters only hours before a case and, perhaps most significantly, Capita actually doesn’t have enough interpreters on its books to fulfill the need.  The contract of MoJ with Capita, and Capita with interpreters both seem to be at fault.  What no-one seems to have fully calculated is the cost of all the postponed cases.  It must be thousands, if not millions more than that saved on interpreter costs.