Judge considers make privatised interpreters pay for court failings

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A CROWN court recorder is considering whether the agency that the Government uses to supply linguists to courts should pay costs wasted when he could not sentence a sex offender because no interpreter had shown up.

Recorder Anton Lodge QC told a jury at Leeds Crown Court yesterday it would be unfair and wrong to go ahead with sentencing Abdillah Dualey, 23, for a sexual assault in Leeds, in the absence of a Somali interpreter. “It is not his fault his command of English isn’t as good as ours.”

Kama Melly, defending Dualey, said she had been able to speak to him through an interpreter earlier in the case but without one he could not understand the implications of his sentence, the need to register as a sex offender or any terms of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

She said the start of his case on Monday was delayed because a court booked interpreter had not turned up and somebody else had to be found, which had affected the complainant waiting to given evidence in the case.

The same problem had now arisen again delaying sentence despite the court’s best endeavours.

She urged the court to consider a wasted costs order and the Recorder agreed to allow seven days for a written explanation why the service involved should not pay the costs.

It is at least the third time that cases at Leeds Crown Court have been delayed since the Ministry of Justice awarded a contract to supply interpreters to one agency, Applied Language Solutions(ALS) Ltd and questions have already been raised in Parliament about similar problems at other courts and police stations.

Earlier this week a campaign was launched by the union Unite and five other professional interpreting organisations to reverse the “privatisation” brought in on cost cutting grounds.

The MoJ said it hoped to save £18m but Unite national officer Sally Kosky said: “The cost of this outsourced shambles will, in the end, far outweigh any possible financial savings.”

She suggested ALS did not have enough linguists to allow smooth running of the justice system.

But a spokesperson for ALS, part of the Capita Group, rejected that saying: “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 just 5 weeks ago, we already have 2,000 experienced and qualified linguists actively working within the system and more are signing up daily.”

She said the MoJ awarded the contract to address the weaknesses of the previous system, the lack of transparency and disproportionate costs. “We are determined to get the service running at a level that meets the MoJ’s requirements, provides transparency of opportunity for linguists and fully supports the police and court service.”