A £300m contract that provides interpreters to every court across England and Wales has been partially abandoned two weeks after being launched due to quality and availability issues.
The Ministry of Justice has circulated memos to courts and tribunals that allows them to hire interpreters from other sources in “urgent” cases because hearings are being cancelled and delayed when Applied Language Solutions (ALS) translators fail to turn up to scheduled appointments.
There had been widespread criticism of the deal with ALS. It was designed to save the government £60m over five years. Since launch however, the scheme has seen poor interpreters causing confusions in hearings and cases being delayed due to interpreters not showing up.
An internal MoJ email states: “We have decided that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service [HMCTS] must take urgent action to mitigate the number of hearings that are failing as a result of the contractor’s difficulties with sourcing interpreters at short notice.
“With immediate effect HMCTS will revert to the previous arrangements for all bookings due within 24 hours at the magistrates’ courts … we will revert to previous arrangements for urgent bookings required for bail applications, deports and fast track applications in the first tier tribunal immigration and asylum and urgent bookings in the asylum support tribunal.”
It also states: “We understand that some staff and judiciary have sympathy with existing interpreters. We must however do all we can to encourage sign-up to the new arrangements – the new contract has the potential to bring significant benefits to both interpreters and the justice system as a whole.”
ALS confirmed that hearings have been cancelled due to the firm being unable to provide interpreters within the time frames of the contract.”Unfortunately that has been true in some cases which is something that we are working extremely hard to resolve,” an ALS spokesperson said.
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