England

Concern over translation in court by Peterborough magistrates

  • 29 March 2012
  • From the section England

A senior magistrate says putting a private firm in charge of the court translation service is undermining the administration of justice.

Peter Beeke, chairman of Peterborough Magistrates' Court, expressed concerns about Applied Language Solutions (ALS) which took on the service in February.

He highlighted one Cambridge case where the lack of a translator led to the use of Google translate by a court clerk.

ALS said the service was in its early days and was improving.

Mr Beeke, who has been a magistrate for more than 10 years, said he and many of his colleagues at magistrate and crown courts across the region were concerned that problems with providing translators had led to major court delays.

'Wasting court time'

He said before February it would be rare that a case was delayed due to the lack of an interpreter, now this occurred regularly.

"It is wasting court time. In one case in a court in Corby, the case was delayed six times," he said.

"In my own court I'm aware of a trial having to be cancelled."

He said he was also concerned that the lack of interpreters has led to people, without English as their natural language, being kept in custody longer than necessary because the possibility of conditional bail is not properly explained to them.

"I believe, in the interests of justice, these problems need to be sorted out," said Mr Beeke.

Problems with the translation service were also highlighted in Suffolk where it was revealed an interpreter had to make a 560 mile round-trip from Newcastle upon Tyne to Ipswich to assist with a court case lasting less than 10 minutes.

'Period of transition'

The committal hearing at the magistrates court was for a defendant who spoke Vietnamese.

Neil Saunders, the defendant's solicitor, said: "I don't think anyone's come that far before."

The arrangement was made by ALS, which has been supplying interpreters to courts in England and Wales since February.

Courts in England and Wales previously hired freelance interpreters from a national register.

ALS was awarded the contract by the government in an attempt to save £18m from its £60m costs.

A spokeswoman for ALS said: "Inevitably there will be a period of transition as embedded, but inefficient, working practices are changed with the aim of achieving higher quality and more cost effective services.

"The contract began less than two months ago and we are fulfilling the vast majority of bookings (nearly 3,000 a week). More interpreters are signing up daily.

"We are determined to get the service running at a level that meets the Ministry of Justice's requirements, provides transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supports the police and court service."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson admitted that there had been an "unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract".

"We have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance," the spokesperson said.

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