Interpreters in Cumbria will travel to Manchester next week to take part in a protest over plans to contract with one supplier to provide language services at courts and tribunals.
After a 12-month procurement process Applied Language Solutions (ALS), a Manchester based translation agency was selected for the contract to provide legal interpreting services. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants to streamline the system of sourcing and booking an interpreter, saving money and staff time. ALS says the centralisation of bookings makes it possible to“efficiently and fairly distribute the work available for each language in a given region.”
However, many independent interpreters say they do not want to be agency workers and fear standards will be lowered with cuts in pay and fewer security safeguards leading to miscarriages of justice. They also fear the change will lead to a drop in interpreting quality.
The Ministry of Justice is trying to reduce the costs and make the service more efficient. One of the consequences of the measures will be abolition of the National Agreement on the Engagement of Interpreters in Criminal Proceedings and the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. The National Agreement stipulates that it is essential that interpreters employed to assist in criminal proceedings should be registered on the NRPSI. The National Agreement was put in place on the recommendations of Lord Justice Auld in 2001 to afford non-English speaking defendants and victims the right to a fair trial following a miscarriage of justice in the Begum case. Now, linguists in Cumbria are being encouraged to register with a new national database to receive work from the MoJ.
Guillermo Makin, of the Society for Public Service Interpreting Ltd is against the new measures because: “Interpreting services will be farmed out to a private monopoly that will also regulate the profession.” He says that: “Interpreter organisations have repeatedly offered the Ministry of Justice a plan in writing that would not increase expenditure but would cut it. There is a precedent”.
Polish translator Mateusz Kiecz, said: “A lot of professional and experiences linguists around the country are now gathering for walkouts to protest against this contract as it will have detrimental effect on delivery of justice for minorities. This could lead to inexperienced and unqualified people working within the delicate environment as the Criminal Justice System”, he said.
A spokeswoman for the MoJ said “The Government is committed to maintaining the high quality of these services, but believes the same level of service can be achieved for less”.
The protest will take place in front of Manchester Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Piccadilly Plaza on Monday at 10am.