There have been new moves in the ongoing catastrophe of the new arrangements for the provision of court interpreting services (posts passim).

Justice Minister Helen Grant MP has taken up the repeated calls by professional interpreters’ groups for talks and invited them to meet and discuss ‘a way forward’ following parliamentary hearings where MPs on the House of Commons Justice Select Committee (JSC) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) exposed the infeasibility of the Ministry of Justice’s £42 mn. contract for court interpreting.

Both committees have heard evidence of the botched procurement process and farcical administration of the contract by Capita, who bought Applied Language Solutions (ALS) at the end of 2011 before the contract was implemented on 30 January 2012.

Whilst the agreement to meet has been cautiously welcomed by ten professional interpreter organisations represented by Professional Interpreters for Justice, Guillermo Makin, the Chairman of the Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI), has expressed disappointment at the Minister’s apparent lack of understanding of the gravity of the current situation in courts.

He says: “The Framework Agreement (FWA) set up by the Ministry of Justice is unsalvageable and whilst we are pleased that the Minister has accepted our proposal to meet, we are disappointed that, given the compelling evidence of the last two weeks, Ms Grant continues to believe the unverified, self-serving performance figures served up by Capita Translation and Interpreting. These figures are widely regarded as dubious to say the least and thus far remain unverified by the Ministry of Justice, as pointed out by Baroness Coussins in the Lords on July 9th“.

This was echoed by Geoffrey Buckingham, Chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI), who added: “We will be interested to determine whether this is simply a case of the Minister ‘going through the motions’ because the National Audit Office recommended it or whether the Government is now ready to engage in genuine consultation, which so far they have singularly failed to do. Ms Grant has expressed a desire and a need to rebuild trust with the interpreting community, yet one meeting does not represent a trust building measure. This contract is not working and everybody knows it. We believe the Minister needs to listen to how interpreters’ organisations can help deliver language services more efficiently and save money in the public interest, whilst serving the interests of justice”.

When repeatedly questioned by Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the PAC, on Monday, Capita refused to concede that the FWA should be modified, despite openly admitting that they now believed that the contract’s key performance indicators were “unrealistic” and “unachievable”.

In response to questioning, Andy Parker, Capita’s Joint Chief Operating Officer, said the company was aware of the resistance of professional interpreters to work under the new system, but had made no attempt to meet them. “We didn’t expect that the amount of interpreters who have refused to work would continue,” he said.

Ms Hodge commented, “It sounds like chaos, frankly”. When she asked how many of the 1,000 court interpreters on the company’s books had been properly assessed or had their qualifications checked, Mr Parker couldn’t answer, to which Ms Hodge responded: “I can’t believe you’re running this show and you don’t have that figure; it is frightening”.

Back in February 2012 a spokesperson for ALS/Capita claimed the company already had 3,000 registered interpreters on its books. The hearings revealed that only 280 of these had in fact successfully completed the assessment process by the start of the contract.

Finally, a reminder: tomorrow, November 2nd sees the closure of submissions to the JSC’s Court Language Services Forum (posts passim).