Courtroom interpreter 'savings' evaporate

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The Ministry of Justice has admitted that £12m of savings predicted for the first year of controversial new arrangements for courtroom interpreting ‘will probably not be achieved’.

The announcement, by justice minister Lord McNally, came as the ministry declined to reveal the cost of the contract with Applied Language Solutions. In response to a freedom of information request made by the Gazette for the cost of the contract’s first three months, from February this year, the MoJ said it held the information but providing it would be too costly.

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Problems with the new interpreting hub were revealed by the Gazette on 9 February.

McNally told peers last week that the contract had a ‘very poor start’, but said there had been ‘improvements’ and that the government will ensure a high-quality service. Responding to a question from Labour peer Lord Harrison, McNally accepted that ‘the original estimate of a £12m saving in the first year will probably not be achieved’, but he said ‘this is not a solution for just one year. It is a long-term solution that we hope will, once it is bedded down, give the service and quality required.’

Crossbencher Lady Coussins, vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, expressed concern that data on contract performance was provided by the contractor ‘without any independent verification or audit’ and tells a ‘very different story from the complaints we hear daily from judges’.

McNally replied: ‘There is not an independent monitoring system - there is a client. We are the client, and we do not intend to pay good money for a shoddy service.’

He dismissed Coussins’ fear that poor performance could put the government in danger of legal action for non-compliance with a European directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, due to be implemented in October 2013.

Applied Language Solutions declined to comment, referring enquiries to the MoJ.

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