MoJ translation services in ''total chaos''
14 December 2012
The way the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) handed translation services to the private sector was an "object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service", the Public Accounts Committee has said, because "almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong".
Committee chair Margaret Hodge said that the MoJ gave the service to Applied Language Solutions (ALS) but the company was clearly unable to deliver. Despite being warned that the firm could not manage contracts of over £1m, the MoJ gave it a £42m contract. As a result, hundreds of translators simply failed to turn up when needed and cases were inevitably delayed.
Also, the MoJ often didn't appear to know which languages needed translating and took no notice of interpreters' statements that they did not want to work for ALS, which was taken over by Capita last year. Although the MoJ needed around 1,200 interpreters, ALS only had 280 on its books.
"Interpretation services are vital for ensuring fair access to justice," Hodge said. "Yet when the Ministry of Justice set out to establish a new centralised system for supplying interpreters to the justice system, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong."
She added: "Many of the 'interpreters' [the ministry] thought were available had simply registered an interest on the company's website and had been subject to no official checks that they had the required skills and experience. Indeed, we heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog. The company was able to meet only 58 per cent of bookings against a target of 98 per cent.
"The result was total chaos. Court officials have had to scramble to find qualified interpreters at short notice; there has been a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling. Despite this, the ministry has only penalised the supplier a risible £2,200. This is an object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service."
Capita-ALS is now fulfilling more bookings, but it is still struggling to fulfil all and the committee was concerned that it may not be doing enough to recruit interpreters or to incentivise interpreters to take jobs in rare languages and covering all geographical locations.
"The ministry cannot be sure that all interpreters working under the contract have the required skills, experience and character, partly because it is not yet inspecting Capita-ALS as it has the right to do under the contract," the committee concluded. "Too many courts are having to find their own interpreters which means that the purpose of the policy, to provide one centralised system, has not been met."