UK interpreting services have been home to controversy since the British Ministry of Justice (MoJ) signed a framework agreement worth £168 million which included a 5-year contract covering courts and tribunals for £90 million. It was the first time such large contract was awarded to a single supplier in the UK as courts would customarily make arrangements with individual interpreters.
The five-year deal with the Ministry of Justice began on 1st February 2012 and was intended to save around £18m a year. The contract was awarded to a single company: Applied Language Services, based in Oldham, near Manchester. The company also had exclusive contracts to supply translation services to the London 2012 Olympics and a number of NHS trusts. As early as March 2012, newspaper The Guardian began voicing the reaction of professional court interpreters, who were faced with massive salary cuts. Some interpreters refused to work and the firm could not find anyone to do the work for them. Disruptions at courts began soon.
Right after it had won the contract with the Ministry of Justice, Applied Language Services had been acquired by Capita in December 2011. Interpreting organisations’ in the UK claimed that around 60% of the 2,300 professional interpreters on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters were refusing to work for the new company. Apparently, the takeover took place without the knowledge of the MoJ, although it was known in professional translation circles and by industry professionals in general. The tender of the contract was open only to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Capita had been an outsourcer of public services in Great Britain for some time, but it had no experience in the translation sector. It was not the first time Capita had been involved in or accused of undermining small businesses. The newly Capita Translation Interpreting attended Localization World London 2013 in triumphant mood.
It was that same year when interpreting services at the British courts were described as “shambolic” as some trials could not take place. Hundreds of professional interpreters were boycotting the contract by then, angry at the contract and by then fully aware of credit-rating reports commissioned by the department which had concluded the translation company should not be given any work worth more than £1m a year. National court interpreting costs had been running at £4m a year until then.
Problems continued over the years: the private outsourcing company was ordered to pay £16,000 in 2015 by the most senior judge in the family courts for its “lamentable” failure to provide Slovak interpreting services seven times in a single adoption case. The Labour party stated the contract was “out of control”.
Interpreting for the Home Office
If the situation at the British courts does not look very easy, the British Home Office is facing threats of massive boycotts in 2016. Home Office freelance interpreters are specifically trained, certified, and security-cleared as they have to work with the Central Interpreters Unit of the Home Office, a ministerial department responsible for security, law and order, and immigration.
The boycott could affect severely the UK’s overburdened immigration system as it relies heavily on freelance interpreters for immigration cases.
Cuts in public law services and courts are nothing new and seem to affect countries around the world. US interpreters revolted against new Virginia-based contractor Sosi as it took over from Lionbridge in 2015. Lionbridge had been meaning to put an end to its unprofitable $14 million annual deal with the US Department of Justice. Sosi’s contract was worth $12 million for language interpreting services and it became effective November 1, 2015. But court interpreters were not willing to sign the new terms of the contract because of low pay conditions, travel reimbursement disputes and cancellation policies as major controversial points.
- The Wrong Way to Interpret Justice: https://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/the-wrong-way-to-interpret-justice/
- Capita ordered to pay costs over failure to provide interpreters to family courts: