2017.02.07 Reply to D.Supt. Baldock, Staff Officer to MPS Commissioner

Dear D.Supt. Baldock

Thank you for your response.

Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J)’s e-mail was sent to all Chief Constables in England and Wales.

It is important that the Commissioner, as the present head of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, is made aware of this e-mail, in particular in light of the MPS Language and Cultural Services Interpreters and Translators’ December Bulletin which mentioned the forthcoming review of the services provided by LCS at the beginning of 2017 (see extract copied below).

One of the challenges faced by police forces in the context of language services is to RETAIN the services of fully qualified, vetted, reliable and professional interpreters.

PI4J’s submissions refer to the current wave of outsourcing of police interpreting services. Recently 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, through a system of competitive tendering where the lowest bidder wins.

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

This outsourcing has taken place without proper consultation with the interpreters currently working for these police forces or their representative bodies, and is leading to wholly unsustainable rates and working terms and conditions resulting in a massive market exit of qualified and experienced interpreters who are transferring their skills and expertise elsewhere.

Although we understand the need for police forces to increase efficiency and reduce costs, we have a direct interest in the most important aspect – that of maintaining the fitness for purpose of police interpreting provision with a view to protect the public.

Legal interpreters are an essential part of the justice system, and their efficient integration into legal proceedings is crucial to ensuring fairness and efficiency of justice.

London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in it and more than 50 different communities. They need to be protected and their rights observed. They must be afforded equal access to the highest levels of linguistic support. The needs of a city of this size cannot be compared to any other in the UK.

The MPS’ Language Services has always been put forward by PI4J as the example for other police forces to follow. The MPS achieved significant savings without outsourcing their language services, by streamlining and improving efficiency of their linguistic support services through their innovative Language Programme set up in 2008 to modernise the linguistic and cultural services in the MPS.

As a result expenditure on language services was cut back to 2004 levels through good management, whilst maintaining stringent standards of quality and procedures.

They introduced an Interpreter Deployment Team acting as a single point of contact (SPOC) to coordinate demand 24/7/365 and installed a video-conference platform to ensure greater access to linguists.

The use of remote interpreting whereby interpreters work from central videoconference hubs is a crucial project in the MPS Language Programme and continues to have a high strategic significance within the MPS.

This may expand further in view of the main revision to PACE Code C, which is to expressly permit the use of live-link communications technology for interpreters. The changes enable interpretation services to be provided by interpreters based at remote locations and allow access to be shared by forces throughout England and Wales, aiming to reduce delays in the investigation and improve availability for all languages.

In addition, the Met already has a very comprehensive system of accrediting and using legal interpreters, ensuring interpreting quality, vetting to a high level, impartiality and cost-effectiveness of interpreting services provided to the London public, 95% of which is of an evidential nature and nearly 40% of interpreting and translation services are used to assist vulnerable people, victims and witnesses.

The MPS list of Official Interpreters has been in existence for a very long time and has served the MPS and the public of the Metropolis well. These are professional interpreters with academic qualifications and proven experience of interpreting within the criminal justice system. Some were awarded the highest commendations available to them and many receive very positive feedback regarding their work, commitment and professionalism. They are subject to strict guidelines issued by the MPS as well as the NRPSI Code of Conduct since registration is mandatory, and are paid rates which are commensurate with their skills and the degree of responsibility of their work.

The MPS is also different to any other Police Force in that it consults with the linguistic and cultural experts in their field, the Met interpreters themselves.

LCS holds regular meetings with the Metropolitan Police interpreters’ representative body, the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters (SOMI UK), both with its Board and Membership. This has been very constructive and informative for both sides, leading to a better understanding of the issues affecting interpreters’ work on the ground and dealing with them in a positive and forward-thinking manner.

All the above factors need to be taken into consideration when the time comes for the MPS to review the future of Language and Cultural Services and the linguistic support given to the Metropolis.

When the Ministry of Justice outsourced their language provision to a widely discredited commercial intermediary in 2012, Capita-TI, it resulted in widely published chaos and the adjournment of more than 2.600 court cases over five years due to failures in interpreting services. This is an ongoing problem now the contract was awarded to another commercial agency, thebigword.

It also 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. Among those who have stopped working for the UK Courts and Tribunals are many of the interpreters currently still providing a service to the MPS.

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.

Indeed, what is most needed is the regulation and professionalisation of interpreting and translation in the criminal justice sector. It is the only way forward.

Yours sincerely,

Professional Interpreters for Justice (PI4J)

Extract from the LCS Interpreter & Translator Bulletin 5 – December 2016
In the last bulletin I mentioned no detailed discussion has taken place and no decision has been made on the future of Language and Cultural Services (LCS) and if the current provision of Linguistic support to the MPS will continue in the same format.

I have now been informed the MPS is likely to review the services provided by LCS at the beginning of 2017. This review is dependent on all previous work around other MPS projects being completed on time and the MPS making the project specialists available to LCS.

This review will include any assessment of the three Language contract/frameworks and how the MPS sources its Language provision to meet the MPS demand and standards. This will include reviewing the current process of maintaining an MPS List.

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