The government has implemented a new process for courts to hire interpreters. It is being implemented to try and save £18m a year of interpreters fees by having one central agency rather than each court having a list of individual interpreters.
However it appears that the system is causing long delays and actually costing more due to poor translation. Examples include a suspect charged with perverting the course of justice was told they are accused of being a pervert. Another was told that being charged means they have to give the police money. These are just two incidents cited by those opposed to the new system.
Courts in England and Wales previously hired freelance interpreters from a national register. Now they are provided by a single agency, Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which has promised to cut the annual £60m translation bill by a third.
While the company states that despite some “teething troubles” it is operating well, 60% of the 2,300 of those on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters are refusing to work for it after their pay was slashed.
Previously they received a flat fee of £85, a quarter-hourly rate after three hours, and were paid for travel time and expenses – but this has been replaced by hourly fees in three tiers of £16, £20 and £22 plus no travel time and reduced expenses.
In some cases, an interpreter’s pay would be halved for the same three hours of work, while those who used to travel long distances to assignments could be out of pocket.
In other words the new system has ensured that only linguists willing to work for very low fees now get booked for court hearings, which will in turn impact the quality of the interpreters that get booked and increase the mistakes that are made. Some fear the change could have more damaging consequences. The interpreters’ membership body, the Professional Interpreters Alliance, says the boycott is forcing ALS to employ people with little experience of the legal system.
“We are already hearing horror stories from all over the country. Being a court interpreter is a specialised and difficult job. You have to be accurate as people’s liberty is at stake,” director Madeleine Lee said.
There is a huge demand for interpreters to help defendants, witnesses and victims understand the legal system.
Mr Storer from a firm in Boston, Lincolnshire said his firm would hire freelance interpreters using Legal Aid money if it was not satisfied with the standard of the interpreters supplied by ALS.
“Good interpreters save money as can speed things up, they are fully aware of the legal process, they know exactly what to do and what’s expected of them and they just get things done,” he said.
YourCulture thinks Mr Storer is absolutely right – A qualified, experienced linguist may cost more per hour but will save more in the long term due to their speed, accuracy and experienced.
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