Before ALS was awarded the £300M contract, every individual court was responsible for sourcing their own interpreters and translators through a national register of vetted professionals. Almost immediately when ALS became solely responsible for this contract they were boycotted by large numbers of interpreters.
The reason being was that the new contract included a sharp reduction in the rate per hour earned, declining from £30 to £22-£16 and compensation for the time spent travelling and other incurred costs were rapidly reduced. As a result many of those interpreters who had years of experience refused to negotiate. Evidently, many of these experienced interpreters have moved away from the profession resulting in a further decline in the standards of court interpreting. The Law Society fears this is leading ALS (Capita) to recruit linguists with no qualifications and experience.
Due to these problems, the minimum target of meeting 98% of booking requests is still not being met, as it currently stands at only 95%. Both Lawyers and judges have complained about missed deadlines and the level of qualification of the interpreters supplied by ALS. One situation involving a trial being halted because the interpreter mis-translated an important piece of evidence and other cases whereby suspects had been detained longer than intended. Of the 3,937 complaints recorded to 31 August, 2012, 2,256 (57.3%) were from tribunals, with the most common reason for complaint being that the interpreter was late getting to the assignment. At criminal courts and prisons, the most common reason for complaint was that there was no interpreter available. That accounted for 34.6% of complaints from those sources. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "There have been an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.
Conservative committee member Robert Buckland said under the new contract, there were 182 ineffective trials in the first quarter of the year, and the trend is worsening.
The chair of the Law Society's criminal law committee, Richard Atkinson, said arrangements for providing court interpreters had got "worse not better" since the contract with Applied Language Solutions began in February.
Judge Francis Sheridan went on record as saying that Capita should "not retain a contract which is too difficult for them" and the government should look at whether the contract was "even remotely viable".
A spokesman for WORDtrans said:
'Unbelievably, senior procurement officials ignored a report by consultants warning of the risks of implementing the contract in the first place and admitted that they had not read the report from a financial data company, which advised them not to do business worth more than £1m with the contractor. This is just basic due diligence and on a contract of this magnitude, you might expect that things like this would be gone over with a fine tooth comb and not just tossed on to a pile.'
Both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Justice Select Committee (JC) are looking into the way in which the contract was awarded and how it is being operated.