Demo as minister says ALS is best for the job

Reporter: HELEN KORN
Date published: 16 March 2012

INTERPRETERS for Justice campaigners demonstrated outside the Commons yesterday over an Oldham firm’s pay and conditions.

Complaints have been aired since Delph’s Applied Languages Solutions (ALS) won a £60 million contract to translate in English and Welsh courts.

The company, which has now been taken over by professional services firm Capita, was set up nine years ago by businessman Gavin Wheeldon — from his bedroom.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Crispin Blunt admitted there had been problems with the recent privatisation of court services but claimed the situation was “rapidly improving”.

He insisted that ALS was the best company to apply for the contract and had substantial resources behind it due to Capita’s takeover.

But since the new system began on February 1, proceedings have been held up by the failure of interpreters to turn up or demonstrate the necessary competence in court, it has been claimed. Questions were raised in Parliament about one agency handling the whole contract after problems arose at several courts and police stations.

On Wednesday, Recorder Anton Lodge QC told a jury at Leeds Crown Court that it would be wrong to sentence someone for a sexual assault in the absence of a Somalian interpreter.

Geoffrey Buckingham, spokesman for the Association of Police and Court Interpreters — which formed part of the demonstrating group, said: “The reason that many of those affected have decided to demonstrate is that they are serious about justice and adamant that the flawed Framework Agreement put in place by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) should be scrapped.

“The MOJ did not consult properly with professional interpreters’ associations and we are calling into question how the contract was awarded to ALS.”

Professional interpreters say they will not sign up to the new system because it is flawed, citing a sub-standard assessment process introduced by ALS which has lowered the standards and is de-valuing the profession overall.

David Evans, chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Magistrates’ Association, said: “I’ve heard words like ‘disaster’ used.

“Surely it is time for a large company to get its act together.”

But Mr Wheeldon defended his rates to reporters, claiming the changes would result in taxpayers’ savings.

He explained that the MOJ was aware that things wouldn’t run smoothly in the beginning, insisted the firm did have enough staff and said initial problems were being addressed.

Mr Blunt added: “We are replacing a system that was administratively decrepit frankly, and very expensive and very open to abuse, and so I’m satisfied that we are now rapidly improving the delivery of the new arrangements and we will get over this bedding–in period.”

The minister said the previous system had been “so decrepit” that the MoJ would make substantial savings of around £18 million under the deal.

The Interpreters for Justice group is appealing to the MOJ to set aside the Framework Agreement and to commence talks with interpreters’ associations to find a long-term solution.