2017.01.26 PI4J email to all Police Forces in England and Wales

26 January 2017

Dear Sir/Madam

Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J) is an umbrella group representing over 2,500 interpreters from both the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI). Our aim is to work with government to ensure the quality of interpreting available to the Justice System and in the Public Sector.

Reliable communication provided by qualified professional interpreters and translators is an essential resource which ensures that justice and human rights are upheld for non-English speakers and deaf people. This is put at risk if standards are dropped and quality is sacrificed.

PI4J has been at the forefront of the professional interpreters’ campaign against the unacceptable lowering of standards and quality in public service.

Re: Outsourcing of Police Interpreting Services

PI4J is sending this e-mail to all the Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables in England and Wales, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Languages and the NPCC Strategic Group for Language Services, and to the procurement leads and regional decision makers we have managed to identify to date.

Police forces are facing many challenges at this time, and one of them in the context of language services is to RETAIN the services of fully qualified, vetted, reliable and professional interpreters.

Interpreters are an essential part of the justice system. Without appropriate quality safeguards, access to justice will be denied and human rights and race relations will be adversely affected.

PI4J have become aware that a number of Police Forces have joined in new collaborative arrangements and are in the process of reviewing and finalising their procurement of translation and interpreting services, without proper consultation with interpreters or their representative bodies.

These include Warwickshire and West Mercia Police Alliance, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Sussex Police and other police forces that are currently sourcing local interpreters and translators directly from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD), which maintain registers of highly professional, fully qualified, vetted and accountable legal interpreters.

We believe this system has been serving them well for many years and there have not been any supply or quality issues as they offer sustainable payment rates and have forged sound working relationships with the interpreters who supported them over the years. The Alliance payment rates are based on the 2009 ACPO guidance which includes full and reasonable payment for travel time and expenses and are a reflection and based on the principles of a ‘’living wage’’.

For information, please see attached PI4J’s letter sent to the West Mercia and Warwickshire Police Alliance in respect of their outsourcing plans, as well as a copy of our email to the NPCC Strategic Group for Language Services after our meeting with them in November 2016.

Other police forces currently reviewing their language provision are those using the Thames Valley Police contract with Language Line Solutions Ltd, which also mandates the use of NRPSI and NRCPD registered interpreters. As a result they were able to provide a very good standard of service.
Although this contract saw a cut in payment rates in recent years, they were still considered acceptable to many professional interpreters who have continued to work for them.

PI4J has for a number of years advised the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice of the importance of keeping to the guidance offered by the National Agreement (NA) on Arrangements for the Use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings within the Criminal Justice System, which represented the culmination of the recommendations of a series of reviews of civil and criminal justice and was produced in consultation with the Interpreters Working Group, which included representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers, Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts Service, the Probation Service, Home Office, Magistrates’ Association, the Bar Council and the Law Society, as well as representatives of interpreter bodies.

It is our contention that the National Agreement should be fully implemented to safeguard justice.

The NA requires that only fully qualified and vetted interpreters registered with the NRPSI and NRCPD are used, with corresponding professional standards and safeguards and subject to a Code of Conduct. Please note that these regulatory bodies provide a disciplinary procedure for their registrants, which is free of charge for the service providers using them.

In November 2014 the Ministry of Justice published a report entitled “Independent Review of Quality Arrangements under the MoJ Language Services Framework Agreement”, on the recommendation of PI4J following years of campaigning to raise standards of interpreting in the Criminal Justice System.

Part of PI4J’s campaign since 2012 focused on the MoJ/Capita-TI Framework Agreement, described by politicians as a “car crash” and “nothing short of shambolic”, and subjected to inquiries by the National Audit Office, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Select Committee.

It is widely known that many commercial translation and interpreting agencies are supplying inexperienced and unqualified interpreters to Police Authorities and the Courts, resulting in delays (and additional costs) and possible miscarriages of justice.

To our great dismay we have now received information that, whilst completely ignoring all the widely published information available to them, Thames Valley Police, Hampshire Constabulary, Surrey Police and Sussex Police have signed a contract with Capita-TI to commence at the end of February 2017.

This is the very same widely discredited agency contracted by the MoJ which has been responsible for the adjournment of thousands of court cases due to failures in interpreting services, affecting more than 2,600 cases over five years.

This has resulted in massive disruption and a huge exit from the market of fully qualified, vetted, skilled and experienced interpreters who have refused to work for the rates on offer and also refuse to work for other low-paying agencies which show little regard for quality and standards.

PI4J have now been informed of the derisory rates on offer by Capita-TI to NRPSI interpreters in relation to the new contract with Thames Valley, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex Police. These are completely unacceptable and unsustainable for any professional legal interpreter, who as self-employed professionals can and will apply their expertise in other areas of work, thus depleting the already suffering industry of even more solid professional interpreters.

The potential risks and possible liability to the industry as a result of implementing such pay rates could push the profession over the cliff edge, something which has been building up for a number of years now, and could also result in this becoming the final nail in the coffin for the profession and its standards, ethics and workmanship.

The message is quite simple: unless offered sustainable rates and fair terms and working conditions, fully qualified professional legal interpreters will not be available under any appalling terms of engagement as proposed.

It needs to be remembered that police interpreters’ rates have not seen an increase in line with inflation for at least 10 years.

Rates must remain commensurate with professional interpreters’ skills and expertise. In addition, a minimum call-out time of two hours, full payment for all travel time and full reimbursement of any travelling expenses must be mandatory to ensure that interpreters do not end up subsidising the state or earning below the “minimum wage” as is currently happening under the MoJ contract with thebigword Ltd or Capita-TI.

Gross hourly rates paid to self-employed interpreters are to liable Income Tax and National Insurance, with the additional disincentives of no pension, holiday or sick pay, as well as no job security. There are further costs with professional registration and membership associations, and investment in continuous professional development.

It is implicit that the service is going to deteriorate because of the standard of individuals who will work instead of professional interpreters under those unsustainable terms of engagement.

Treating interpreting services as a cheap commodity will not secure the services of highly skilled professional interpreters, which in effect help the industry save money, when the payment rates offered by most of the exploitative agencies currently being contracted by the public sector are so low as to be below the “living wage”.

Police Forces must ensure that public money is spent in a responsible manner and they must support fair, ethical, transparent and professional business practices in respect of services which have a fundamental impact on the lives of their communities.

Robust standards need to be set and vigorously enforced in order to protect the public and those we serve, which include many vulnerable people, victims and witnesses in the community and justice sector. They must be afforded equal access to the highest levels of linguistic support.
It is in the interest of justice and of the utmost urgency that a new National Interpreter Services Working Group is set up to deal with all matters relating to Language Services in the Criminal Justice System, as it will be the only way to avoid a complete disintegration of the remaining quality and standards. Such working group should include representatives of the interpreters’ professional bodies.

PI4J would be very happy to arrange a meeting to discuss the issues above.

Yours faithfully,

Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J)

PI4J: What are we asking for?
1. The use of qualified interpreters
2. Full consultation with the interpreting profession
3. Sustainable terms and conditions to be offered to interpreters
4. Independent auditing of quality and performance
5. Independent regulators: Regulation and the maintenance of registers should not be in the hands of private providers
6. Minimum levels of interpreter qualification
7. Statutory protection of title

Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J) Member Organisations:

Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI) – chairman@apciinterpreters.org.uk
Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru; (CCC) – geraint@cyfieithwyrcymru.org.uk
Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) – chiefexec@iti.org.uk
National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) – chairman@nrpsi.org.uk
National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators, part of Unite the Union (NUPIT) – nupit@unitetheunion.org
National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters part of Unite the Union (NUBSLI) – branchsecretary@nubsli.com
Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd (SOMI) – board@somiukltd.com
The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) – keith.moffitt@ciol.org.uk

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