Tribunals’ translators walk out in row over contracts

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INTERPRETERS staged a walkout at Bradford Asylum and Immigration Tribunals yesterday in protest at Ministry of Justice plans to contract with one supplier to provide language services at courts and tribunals.

More than a dozen interpreters registered their resistance to the proposals by protesting for over an hour under banners saying “No to Agency contracts” and “Interpreters United against Agencies” and further demonstrations are planned elsewhere in the coming weeks.

The Ministry of Justice could also face a legal challenge to its new cost-cutting arrangements for the provision of interpretation and translation services.

After a 12-month procurement process Manchester-based Applied Language Solutions (ALS) was selected for the contract to provide the services and a judicial review is being considered against that decision.

A spokeswoman for the MOJ said: “Interpreters and translators provide a vital service, ensuring speakers of all languages have equal access to justice.

“The Government is committed to maintaining the high quality of these services, but believes the same level of service can be achieved for less.

“We are in the process of finalising a framework agreement with a commercial provider, which will streamline the system of sourcing and booking an interpreter, saving money and staff time. We are working to ensure all cases are heard efficiently.”

But many independent interpreters say they do not want to be agency workers and fear standards will be lowered with cuts in pay and fewer security safeguards leading to miscarriages of justice.

Madeleine Lee, speaking for the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, said the Bradford protest was aimed at raising awareness among lawyers and the public of professional freelance interpreters opposition to the plans.

“Professionally qualified, registered court interpreters are concerned that the Ministry’s proposed framework agreement will lead to a drop in interpreting quality as they risk being replaced by unqualified bilinguals.”

But a spokeswoman for ALS maintained: “ALS has demonstrated that it has the experience and the ability to deliver a reliable, quality service.

“Centralisation of bookings makes it possible to efficiently and fairly distribute the work available for each language in a given region.”