SOMI’s submissions re: MoJ Proposals for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector dated 30 March 2011

Richard Mason
Head of Better Trials Unit
Ministry of Justice

By email:

4 May 2011

Dear Mr Mason,

Re: MoJ Proposals for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector dated 30 March 2011

Thank you for your invitation to present our views on the proposed arrangements and the contents of the documents attached. Please consider our submissions below in conjunction with the Joint Submissions of which we are a party.

All members of the Society of Official Metropolitan Interpreters UK Ltd (SOMI UK) are official Metropolitan Police interpreters. Under the National Agreement, we are required to be on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) or the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP). 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.

1. We wish to work together with the Ministry of Justice to make the system work in a viable and cost effective manner. However, we do not believe that the MoJ will achieve its aim of improving the existing arrangements for the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector by simply outsourcing to a single commercial agency, even if allowing for sub-contracting. It is our contention that quality standards and the interests of justice will be compromised if the reforms as proposed by the Interpretation Project go ahead.

2. We, public service interpreters and representative organisations, are the only practitioners and experts in our field and by not engaging regularly with us instead of this ad hoc basis, 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.

3. We find it counterproductive and not in the interest of justice to withdraw the National Agreement on the use of Interpreters in the Criminal Justice System, which 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. It states that it is essential ‘that interpreters used in criminal proceedings should be competent to meet ECHR obligations. To that end, the standard is that every interpreter/LSP working in courts and police stations should be registered with one of the recommended registers, i.e. the NRPSI at full or interim status (with Law Option) for non-English spoken languages, and, as full members, with CACDP for communicating with D/Deaf people’. It further states that ‘registration with one of the registers provides a number of important safeguards as to interpreters’ competence, reliability and security vetting.’

4. These proposals will undermine standards in public service interpreting achieved over the past decade and the existence of a recognised pool of qualified, registered and vetted professional interpreters will be undone. By outsourcing the provision of interpretation and translation services in the manner proposed, the MoJ is passing on the regulatory functions of the NRPSI to agencies, which is unacceptable. The NRPSI has now been reconstituted as an independent professional regulator in the interest of the public. All interpreters on the NRPSI have to satisfy the entry criteria in terms of qualifications and experience, they are subject to a Code of Professional Conduct, any alleged breaches of the Code are investigated by an independent Board and there is a formal complaints procedure.

5. Since the recent reform of the NRPSI on 1 April 2011, there has been no cost incurred by the service providers to access it, as it is paid for by the interpreters themselves.

6. The DPSI, the CCI (forerunner to DPSI) and the Met Police Test should continue to be the benchmark qualifications and we do not see any academic or legitimate reason, nor have you provided any, in order to substitute these existing well considered and properly designed qualifications.

7. We are extremely concerned by the fact that we were not engaged in the consideration process of the proposed tier system, which inherently suggests that some parts of the criminal justice system do not deserve fully qualified interpreters. This is particularly true for tiers 2 and 3, which definitely constitute lowering of the quality and standard. They must be scrapped at once as they sanction the use of under qualified interpreters which is contrary to the stated aim in your letter of the 9 August 2010 and in the current proposed Framework Agreement. Bilinguals of varying ability levels who are not yet qualified for public service interpreting should not be considered suitable to interpret in the Criminal Justice System.

8. Using less qualified interpreters will slow down procedures and may lead to miscarriages of justice and consequent appeals at great expense to the taxpayer and so will not lead to a cost-saving result after all. There are many cases that initially appear minor but may develop into something very serious where experienced, highly qualified professionals are required.

9. To develop an indiscriminate wider pool of interpreters, which would be a consequence of this exercise, would only reduce the existing pool of public service interpreters as there will be less work available for them, forcing them to look for alternatives. This is already happening in places where there is a saturation of the market in common languages. The aim of having all languages available within a 25 miles distance of a location in 95% of outcomes is highly impractical and unnecessary.

10. We are also profoundly alarmed about the consequences to our livelihood if there is to be a withdrawal of the standardised Terms & Conditions, which form part of the National Agreement and at present determine the rates paid by HMCTS and CPS. Instead there would be a reliance on the supplier ‘to ensure rates of pay would be sufficient to attract and retain linguists with the appropriate standards, which would be offering reasonable remuneration at market value’, leaving terms and conditions to be a matter for agreement between the contractor and the interpreter. This effectively creates a notion of reverse auction, as there will be no guarantee of a minimum payment for attendance, travel time and the reimbursement of expenses to make it economically worthwhile for interpreters. We are aware that many of our qualified public service colleagues, with years of professional experience, have already decided to move away from public service interpreting as they are losing all confidence in the continued recognition and protection of the interpreter in this proposed outsourcing to a commercial agency whose main aim will always be to increase their own profits.

11. There could be more saving 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 way – dealing as you mention with the process of identifying and booking individual interpreters in a more efficient way, for example by not sending interpreters of the same language to the same court when fewer can be used and by reducing unnecessary waiting times, as well as to deal with the payment process. For example, the Metropolitan Police has in fact achieved savings by reorganising the way they use their own interpreters’ list without the need to resort to outsourcing.

12. We categorically oppose the requirement for fully qualified interpreters to undertake an additional initial assessment and subsequent annual appraisal and revalidation of their skills, unless there is a new national law requiring all professionals and graduates, including all staff of the Ministry of Justice, to submit to annual confirmation of their degrees and qualifications. Such a requirement implies disregard for the existing qualifications and for the experience and expertise of interpreters. Many interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters hold MA degrees in interpreting and translation, a DPSI 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 of us 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.

13. We agree that a continuous professional development programme for all interpreters and translators including, where appropriate, justice specific training provision would be very helpful. In some countries this is made a requirement to continue working in the field and we do not oppose this, in fact, we fully welcome it.

14. All our members are bound by and adhere to SOMI’s Code of Practice, the NRPSI’s Code of Conduct and the Metropolitan Police Guidelines, which include its Code of Ethics. By continuing to make registration on the NRPSI compulsory for all interpreters working in the CJS, we are held accountable for any breaches.

15. Annual appraisal and revalidation must not be monopolised by one agency, this can be achieved by putting different mechanisms in place, such as feedback from the work providers, who should be made fully aware of the Code of Conduct that NRPSI interpreters have to follow.

Further points arising from the documents supplied by the MoJ

Document 1

1. Since suppliers and sub-contractors will have direct access to details of interpreters and the cases they are involved in, we are keen to know to what security vetting levels the suppliers and their staff are cleared?

2. What contractual terms and conditions do they have to comply with in order to safeguard our data? We are extremely concerned that this, although briefly raised in the joint response submitted on 15 September 2010, is not being even mentioned.

3. There is no mention of who will vet interpreters and suppliers’ staff and who will keep such data?

4. We would like to know how, under the proposed arrangements, will interpreters’ data, which will include confidential details of our income, cases we are involved in and any other details, be safely archived? We are not aware if there is a secure/safe archiving/retrieval system with controlled access to authorised persons only. It is not mentioned what measures and mechanisms are there to safeguard and protect our data from hacking and/or unauthorised access in future.

5. The proposed complaint system, contained in the 9th bullet point, seems to be only imposed for complaints against interpreters and there is nothing to suggest dealing with complaints from interpreters. We deem this to be discriminatory and recommend that the same robust, fair and auditable procedures must also manage complaints initiated by interpreters.

6. The right on the part of collaborative partners, stated in the 10th bullet point, is ambiguous and seems, on the face of it, to be unfair and oppressive. It is, therefore, important that this point be explained in some detail.

7. Although obtaining general feedback from non-English speakers, as mentioned in the 11th bullet point, sounds a good idea; experience tells us that this could prove problematic and controversial. Hence, this needs proper consultation with interpreters as it can be misleading and lead to misunderstanding which could seriously undermine the legal process.

Document 2

Quality Standards
Allocation of assignments:

This is a large area with many overlaps and it needs to be carefully considered by all parties concerned including interpreters. We do not find any rational or educational reason for introducing the tier system or substituting the current qualifications other than to legitimise the takeover bid for the benefit of commercial intermediaries. However we note the following:

1. The tier allocation of assignments seems to be based on the assumption that linguistic challenge is proportionate with the seriousness of a case. This is not always true for linguistic challenge would normally depend on the subject matter and not on the offence committed.

2. It is our professional advice that tier one qualifications must be set as the minimum requirement otherwise this would mean reduction in quality.

3. We cannot possibly endorse tiers two and three as acceptable interpreting qualifications; Bi-Lingual Skills Certificate for example is by definition not suitable for interpreting.

4. Whilst we wholly reject the tier system, we are intrigued to know if this would attract different rates of pay.

5. If there is disparity of pay, experience tells us that authorities and agencies tend to favour employing the lowest paid interpreters in order to save money at the expense of quality. This in turn is likely lead to more miscarriages of justice and more appeals.

Independent Assessment Centre

1. We see no reason why qualified interpreters should need to be reassessed if, in addition to their qualifications, they have been practicing for a number of years. This is discriminatory and constitutes a waste of the public money invested in the creation of the existing qualifications through the Nuffield Interpreter Project.

2. It does not make sense that experience seems to be completely discarded by the imposition of unknown assessments by unknown assessors, which appears to be the deciding factor as if interpreters, their organisations and their expertise never existed.

3. What credentials do the assessors have? Assessors do already exist in the public service interpreting domain who have not only the experience but are also qualified to do so.

4. In the absence of the teaching and testing materials, we cannot make an informed decision as to the suitability and standard of the proposed assessment.

6. All assessment materials and designs must be tested and approved by existing interpreters’ organisations as they have within their number the right experts who should be able to assist in deciding the level and standard of the assessment materials as well as who should or shouldn’t be assessed.

7. Are interpreters expected to bear all the additional costs of these controversial assessments, insurance and CPD?

Document 3

Code of Conduct

1. As mentioned in 14 above, interpreters are already bound by more stringent and robust codes of practice and conduct than that proposed in the Framework Agreement.

2. Since it is proposed that a sole supplier would be the provider of the interpretation and translation services, there should be vicarious liability on the part of the supplier and there should be no need for interpreters to have professional indemnity insurance (19th bullet point).

We cannot respond strongly enough to these proposals other than to state that we are extremely concerned about their implications and the impact they will have on the future of Public Service Interpreting and to recommend that you seriously consider all the submissions put forward by individual interpreters and by their representative bodies.

Yours sincerely,

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

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