Archive for April, 2013

House of Commons Justice Committee: Written evidence from the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Justice Committee
Written evidence from the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd

I am writing on behalf of the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd (SOMI UK). Please consider our submissions below in conjunction with the Joint Submissions of which we are a party.

All our members are official Metropolitan Police interpreters. Under the National Agreement on the use of Interpreters in the Criminal Justice System (NA)1, we are required to be on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI)2 or the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP)3. We are vetted to CTC level or above by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). We are all professional interpreters with academic qualifications and proven experience of interpreting within the criminal and civil justice systems.

The comments below especially address one specific area that the Justice Committee is seeking to explore:

1. The Rationale for Changing Arrangements for the Provision of Interpreter Services

1. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has signed a contract under a Framework Agreement (FWA) with Applied Language Services (ALS). The new system came into effect on 30 January 2012 and is now being used in all the courts in England and Wales (criminal, civil and family courts, tribunals and prisons) and in some Constabularies.

2. The Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd made submissions4 regarding the MoJ’s proposals for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector dated 30 March 2011, in a letter to Richard Mason, Head of Better Trials Unit of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) dated 4 May 2011.

3. Our main contention was that quality standards, achieved over the past two decades, and the interests of justice would be compromised. We made it clear that we were extremely concerned about the implications and the impact the outsourcing to a single self-regulating commercial agency would have on the future of Public Service Interpreting and emphasised that the existing recognised qualifications and independent regulation were essential elements of the profession. It now appears that our concerns were fully justified.

4. Certainly, the MoJ’s considerations and advice to the Minister have ignored the interpreting profession’s widespread concerns and opposition to the Framework Agreement from the very beginning, and the result of its implementation has been the ensuing chaos in the Courts and some Constabularies as ALS has continuously struggled to supply reliable interpreters for assignments across the country.

5. This is evidenced in the stream of national and international articles published in the media since 30 January 2012 (see RPSI Linguist Lounge and Collected News Reports 5). Even Justice Minister Crispin Blunt has been forced to admit from the outset that implementation of the contract has caused “unacceptable disruption” (The Times, 24 February 20126) and Justice Minister Lord McNally has recently confirmed that “it is unlikely to achieve any savings in its first year” (House of Lords, 9 July 20127).

6. In the debate in the House of Lords on 9 July Lady Butler-Sloss, a retired judge, asked Lord McNally: “Are you aware of the extent of disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting, which is not only leading to very considerable cost but also concerns have been raised by judges across the country, particularly in London, in Birmingham and in Leeds?” Lord McNally did not deny this.

7. ALS has been unable to recruit qualified and experienced interpreters in sufficient numbers, leading to inadequate quality of the service offered, added to poor management and accountability. This resulted in numerous hearings being adjourned or severely delayed, with some defendants being returned into custody at a great cost. In other hearings poor quality interpreting was in evidence leading to delays and collapsed trials, again at great expense to the taxpayer.

8. The National Agreement (NA)1 was introduced to address concerns raised by Lord Runciman with regards to the difficulty of obtaining good quality interpreters in his Report to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in July 1993, and Lord Justice Auld’s Review of Criminal Justice in 20018. The NA is a safeguard to basic human rights and was put in place following the recommendations of Lord Justice Auld in order to ensure the right to a fair trial. In 2006 a Home Office Circular reinforced the importance of the NA and the quality of interpreting services, and subsequent amendments were made to strengthen it, ensuring only registered and qualified interpreters could practise in the Criminal Justice System.

9. The MoJ intends to withdraw the NA. This is counterproductive and not in the interest of justice. An essential pre-requisite to achieving justice is reliable communication provided by qualified legal interpreters and translators.

10. Under the previous arrangements, interpreters used in criminal proceedings were primarily drawn from the NRPSI2 and the CACDP3, which ensured interpreters’ competence, reliability, accountability and security vetting by independently verifying their credentials and qualifications. These interpreters are bound by more stringent and robust codes of practice and conduct than those proposed in the Framework Agreement.

11. Re-combining the regulatory function with commercial provision has been a retrograde step, effectively reversing the progress achieved over the past two decades. This is particularly so given that the NRPSI has recently re-organised itself as an independent body to regulate the profession in the public interest and can be accessed free of charge.

12. Under the FWA, a professional qualification (which includes both oral interpreting and written translation) is no longer an essential requirement to interpret at court and in the CJS. This may have legal implications or consequences if the interpreting or translation is ever used as evidence or called into question in legal proceedings.

13. ALS introduced a system of unaccredited assessments and a tier system of qualifications and payment, which constitute a lowering of the quality and standard required for interpreting in the Criminal Justice System. The “ALS assessment”9 designed at Middlesex University was explicitly NOT intended to mimic or replace the DPSI examination, but delivered solely as an in-service performance check, providing only a diagnostic check (not a pass or fail result).

14. The requirement for fully qualified interpreters to undertake an additional unaccredited assessment of their skills constitutes a de facto de-recognition of the existing qualifications and the experience and expertise of interpreters. Many interpreters on the NRPSI hold MA degrees in interpreting and translation, a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting qualification (accredited at NVQ level 6 by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree with honours), a Diploma in Translation (accredited at level 7 and equivalent to a Masters degree) and also the Met Test, designed especially for police work. Learning at this level involves the achievement of a high level of professional knowledge. Further, most are active practising interpreters and have years of proven experience behind us (with many working over 1000 hours per year in public service), which cannot be undervalued.

15. The vast majority of our qualified public service colleagues have not and will not register with ALS and they are also refusing requests from court officials who have been given permission by the MoJ to revert to the NRPSI, as this is only a temporary measure designed to prop up the FWA and its contractor.

16. A significant reduction in terms and conditions is also a major disincentive and is not by any means sufficient to attract and retain qualified, experienced interpreters. Contrary to unfounded claims from Justice Minister Crispin Blunt that interpreters earned six figure salaries, a recent survey10 conducted in 2010 by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) found that the average public service interpreter earnings are £15,700. When one adds in the additional disincentives of no pension, holiday pay or sick pay, as well as no job security, it is unthinkable to assume that the rates of pay and costs are suitable. It is implicit that the service is going to deteriorate because of the quality of interpreters who will work at these rates.

17. Professional interpreters are simply not prepared to work for the terms and conditions on offer. There is a strong movement within the legal interpreting community to keep the NA and the NRPSI to maintain quality and standards, against the cut-price employment terms imposed by the FWA.

18. Other interpreters are simply moving away from public service interpreting, which means a further reduction in the pool of qualified interpreters. They have lost all confidence in the continued recognition and protection of the interpreter in this outsourcing to a commercial agency whose main aim will always be to increase their own profits.

19. Interpreters, the organisations representing them, and other professionals in Criminal Justice are also fearful of the consequences for Equal Access to Justice and Fair Trial for non-English speakers11, which may be put at risk if quality legal interpreting or translation is not provided. There are inherent dangers to the delivery of justice that can arise out of inadequate interpreting or complete failure to supply an interpreter at all. The potential cost due to failed prosecutions and appeals also cannot be underestimated.

20. It is often the victims that are overlooked in this and they too will suffer if the standards are dropped and quality is sacrificed for profit.

21. The Ministry of Justice should seek to provide services efficiently and effectively, but trying to improve a functioning service requires continuous consultation with the service providers involved; namely the professional legal interpreters and their representative bodies. The system worked well before, with problems only seldom occurring.

22. We maintain that there could be more savings in the long term by investing in the establishment of a central government agency, which is “not for profit” and therefore does not seek to gain a pecuniary advantage from interpreters’ work. This may achieve a streamlining of the system and thereby utilise interpreter services in a more organised and efficient way—dealing with the process of identifying and booking individual interpreters, as well as with the payment process. For example, the Metropolitan Police has achieved savings12 by reorganising the way they use their own interpreters’ list without the need to resort to outsourcing.

23. Qualified professional interpreters are an essential resource which ensures that justice and human rights are upheld. The introduction of outsourcing and the tier system by the Ministry of Justice has compromised the quality of service provided, which is resulting in costly delays, collapsed trials and may lead to miscarriages of justice.

24. We, public service interpreters and representative organisations, are the only practitioners and experts in our field and by not engaging with us the MoJ is depriving itself from the expertise and professional advice we interpreters can give. It is therefore in the interest of justice that the MoJ sets up an Interpreters Working Group involving the Criminal Justice System and interpreters in order to address all matters of concern.

25. We wish to engage directly with the Ministry of Justice in order to find solutions to improve efficiency and cost, whilst still maintaining standards of service.

26. Seven professional interpreters’ organisations, representing 2,350 registered public service interpreters in 101 languages, and the profession’s regulatory body NRPSI are united in the Professional Interpreters for Justice Campaign13. We have written a joint letter to Crispin Blunt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice which was not replied to. The MoJ has thus far chosen to ignore our requests for engagement and dialogue14.

27. Legal interpreters and translators require protection of title and the status; the obligations and rights of legal interpreters and translators should be defined in law to ensure the highest standards of service.

Yours sincerely,

Klasiena Slaney
Company Secretary
For and on behalf of SOMI UK Ltd

August 2012

Specific Links for Further Information

1. National Agreement on the Use of Interpreters (NA).

2. National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).

3. Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP).

4. The Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd submissions re MoJ’s proposals for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector dated 30 March 2011.

5. RPSI Linguist Lounge and Collected News Reports.

6. The Times, Friday 24 February 2012,

7. Parliament, 9 July 2012 House of Lords debate EU: Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings.

8. In 2001 Lord Justice Auld made recommendations in respect of interpreting provisions. Auld Recommendations (paras 276–286, pages 63–64).

9. The “ALS assessment” designed at Middlesex University.

10. Interpreter Rates and Salaries Survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI).

11. Equal Access to Justice and Fair Trial for non-English speakers.

12. MPS FOI, September 2011, Expenditure on Interpreters and Translators for the past seven years. Metropolitan Police Service opted out of the Framework Agreement.

13. Professional Interpreters for Justice Campaign.

14. Interpreter bodies’ joint letter to Crispin Blunt, MP.

©Parliamentary copyright

Prepared 5th February 2013