Independent Review of MoJ Interpreting Services Contract

An independent review is being carried out of the MoJ’s dire interpreting contract with Capita. Hopefully this spells this end of the contract which has supposedly saved millions. If there was ever a full cost benefit analysis, it would show it has wasted much more than the purported savings.

The survey invite has been sent to ASLI, NRCPD, NUPIT and NRPSI as the high-profile organisations who represent interpreters in the UK. It is not clear from the invite if the Association of Lipspeakers or any Deaf professionals working in the justice system have been invited to comment (see letter below for contact details). Anecdotally many Deaf people have told of the decrease of interpreter provision and quality although many experienced court interpreters are still working when they can get the terms and conditions they are used to.

Please do fill out the survey if you have worked in court or experienced the MoJ’s interpreting contract on the ground. We look forward to the results and whether this will change anything.

 

Dear Madam/Sir,

Matrix, an independent consultancy, has been tasked by the Ministry of Justice to carry out an ‘Independent Review of Quality Assessment within MoJ Language Services Framework’.

This project is a review of the quality of interpretation and translation services provided in the justice sector under the MoJ Language Services Framework. To this end, Matrix seeks to gather evidence of and stakeholder input on the current state of play regarding the quality of interpretation and translation in the justice system, the relevant quality / experience requirements for interpreters / translators and current procedures for monitoring, evaluating and maintaining the quality of interpretation and translation. In this context, we are targeting all interpreters working in the UK justice system.

We would therefore highly appreciate it if you could fill in an online questionnaire, indicating your perceptions and views, by accessing the following link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XGZRCGK

Filling in the questionnaire should not take longer than 15 minutes. The survey will be open until Friday, 11th April 2014. All results will be anonymised for the final report.

Thank you very much in advance for your input and time.

In case you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us on Mirja.Gutheil@matrixknowledge.com.

Aurélie Heetman
Consultant
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Profit over equality? Another outsourced contract fails

Atos, the company awarded work capability assessments has terminated its contract early and agreed financial settlement with the DWP. If you were on benefits due to long-term illness, you had to have your back to work assessment by this company.

For Deaf people, Atos created additional barriers to these work assessments, as they did for disabled people.

Before you could even get an assessment you had to phone a number to book an appointment. There were no alternative means of communication. Not even through a dusty old textphone.

It’s medical assessors, not trained doctors, were known for testing Deafness by asking people to turn around and shouting at them to see if they were Deaf.

Interpreters used for these appointments were rarely qualified or registered.

An outsourcing nightmare bites the dust. If only the same would happen with the MoJ contract for interpreting.

If only government contracts had stipulated within them the needs for equality over profit.

If only contracts would be monitored to check that what big companies say they will do, actually happens.

If only.

One Year on: The Ministry of Justice’s Failed Interpreting Contract

The latest on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contract, which is approaching its one year anniversary, is that the contract holders, Capita are still hanging on. From 8th January the travel costs are being slashed to 20p per mile. Travel costs were the only benefit for people accepting a job as a ‘linguist’ (their term for an untrained interpreter and insulting to real linguists). There are already grumblings.

Any clued-up interpreter knew this was due to happen and it is why the boycott has been admirably sustained by all those that are professionals and know their worth. Here follows a summary of what has happened over the last year:

  • Key interpreter organisations object to a monopoly contract and point out what should be the minimum standards as already set up in the National Agreement.
  • ALS awarded contract by promising unsustainable savings despite protests.
  • ALS offers interpreters greatly reduced payments for working in courts.
  • Professional interpreters refuse to work under these conditions for ludicrously low payments.
  • The courts are thrown into chaos with many bookings unfilled and courts experiencing many adjournments and delays.
  • Bonuses are paid to entice anyone to accept work (£5 extra for accepting an online booking) and mileage and payments are increased to entice ‘linguists’ to court.
  • Untrained, unqualified speakers of other languages, sometimes those who do not even speak the languages they say they do, start to work for the contract.
  • Reports are numerous amongst interpreters and reach the UK media of linguists travelling miles to rack up travel payments.
  • Courts continue to experience severe delays.
  • Capita takes over ALS and pays £7.5 million and invests a further £5.4 million.
  • Several ALS and Capita personnel leave including ex-Chief Executive Gavin Wheeldon.
  • Parliamentary hearings confirm what everybody knew: the contract holders know nothing about interpreting or the standards that were put in place before the contract removed them.
  • From instructions set out by the Public Accounts Committee, Capita start to CRB check the ‘linguists’ registered on its database, check whether they actually have qualifications and start to tighten up checks. These were fairly non-existent until this point.
  • A year after the contract starts mileage rates slashed to 20p per mile and effort is made to find local personnel, the contract promised that interpreters would be sourced from within a 25 mile radius, but with the payments originally offered this did not happen.

The next chapter in this story will surely be that no-one will work for Capita at the proposed rates. £16 – £22 per hour for a court job, with many being classed at the £16 per hour level – if someone paid out more than they were allowed to claim and travelled far to attend a job, Capita’s so-called linguists would be working for less than the minimum wage. The MoJ surely could not expect professionals for those prices and professionals it does not get. The courts have seen a parade of second-jobbers standing in for professional interpreters including hotel staff walking out of courts before hearings are finished to get back to their real jobs, reports of mis-interpretations abound and ‘linguists’ who do not speak their stated languages.

Capita’s website reveals no mention of standards, of registration (NRPSI or NRCPD), of minimum levels of qualifications, of CRB checks, Codes of Conduct or professional indemnity insurance. The only word they use is ‘qualified’. In what exactly, it is not clear. Perhaps anything other than languages or even interpreting, going by the personnel they are still sending to courts.

And what of Sign Language Interpreting? The contract has changed the face of interpreting mainly due to how the booking system works. The Capita monopoly just does not work. With patches of evidence of lowered standards in place it ticks over, many afraid to report bad practice due to confidentiality. More job requests are issued directly from courts and are being farmed out to agencies who have never been heard of and who may never have booked a Sign Language Interpreter. Worrying as they will not be aware of our standards of registration. With no monitoring of the contract by the MoJ this leaves us in a risky situation that has already seen influent sign language users, who are not yet registered interpreters, working in courts, despite promises by the MoJ.

There no longer seems to be a preferred supplier as the jobs that are released by Capita go out to a myriad of sign language interpreting agencies and some spoken language ones. Let us remember whenever there is a monopoly situation, the larger company inevitably uses competition between sub-contractors to drive the price down. We have seen this with another large spoken language agency and their numerous public service contracts leaving us in a situation where the least experienced interpreters are doing jobs that should be done by the most experienced such as mental health, child protection and probation.

In the courts it has been reported that some newly registered interpreters are accepting court or police work, often without any additional training. Why? Some agencies like to reassure interpreters they are capable. Less scrupulous agencies will tell an interpreter anything to fill the job. It is not their decision whether an interpreter should do the job but it is up to the interpreter in question. This practice by agencies has happened for years but newer interpreters are left ever more vulnerable by a changed economic landscape and an unwillingness to pay for support networks such as ASLI. This is how many of us learned to be professionals and to see ourselves as a collective. Let us all remind ourselves of the NRCPD’s Code of Conduct for competence: You must recognise and work within the limits of your competence, and if necessary, refer on to another proficient professional.

Although there are still experienced court interpreters working for Capita. Many are not or state they are experienced but actually are not up to the job. One of the most important skills a court interpreter should have is an ability to monitor their own output and enter into discussions about their work. If you see bad practice in courts please report it to the NRCPD. Often the Deaf clients, if vulnerable, will not be able to do so. It is our duty.

Stories abound of clients not understanding court interpreters. Perhaps interpreters are not insisting on Deaf relay interpreters when it is needed, perhaps when one is not present they do not have the skills to deliver the court proceedings in a way that the Deaf people present will understand something, no matter what their level of language or conceptual understanding. Court work is often not the same as working with a Deaf person who has such good language skills that even if you are not that good an interpreter they will do the processing for you whilst you sign something vaguely relevant to what is going on.

One reader of this blog reports: One client stated they had not understood the interpreters in court and she did not know what she had been there for, what the charge was and what the outcome of the proceedings were. When pressed by the solicitor she could not answer. The interpreter states they interpreted in more or less international sign as this was not a native user of BSL. Her companion eventually stated the charge, that she was found guilty but had not yet been sentenced.

Unfortunately this is more common than it used to be. Will our situation get worse if we too are subjected to a further drop in terms and conditions? Capita will be looking to make savings somewhere as they can not drop the rates of spoken language interpreters any more than they have. With a flat rate of £34 per hour that is not a margin that screams profit, especially not when they are being subjected to wasted costs orders by judges. With no mention of standards of BSL/English interpreting stated presumably they are covered to send anyone who can pick up their hands and pretend, much like the linguists who speak Bulgarian but interpret in Russian and which ever language they can get away with.

This is not access to justice for Deaf people and especially not for speakers of other languages. The British justice system is often seen as the fairest in the world. Just not anymore if you speak another language.

Privatising the Police

You may not have noticed but there were some elections last week. The Conservatives have brought in Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to replace Police Authorities. PCCs are publicly elected to hold Chief Constables to account and the new PCCs were elected in 41 areas, 37 in England and 4 in Wales. No PCCs were elected in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London due to different governing procedures.

In an initiative supposedly brought in to increase local democracy, £100 million was spent yet the turnout was as low as 1 in 10 in some areas. At one polling station in Newport, Wales, there were no voters.

Why is this important for interpreting? Although the main aim of PCCs will be to reduce crime they will also be attempting to reduce ‘waste’, the catch-all Conservative term for spending. ‘Waste’ will inevitably include interpreting and translation. Any police force who has managed to escape the disastrous Ministry of Justice contract, a system that is more inefficient and wasteful than the previous, may not last much longer. Another criticism is that PCCs will politicise police forces. In Hertfordshire, Conservative candidate, David Lloyd won and was the only candidate to support outsourcing. The rest held a much more sensible view.

If Chief Constables were under extreme pressure before, that may have just got a whole lot worse. We may now see even more parts of police forces outsourced and auctioned off to the lowest bidder. David Cameron stated that the “turnout was always going to be low, when you’re electing a new post for the first time…” That is not a legitimate reason when in an election understood and supported by voters the turn out would have been higher. The media has called into question whether these posts are therefore even legitimate.

If you want to dispute the elections write to the party leaders online and write to your new PCC and explain why interpreting should not be outsourced causing a further privatisation of our police forces and putting users of interpreting services at risk.

Parliament, Capita and the decline in standards of BSL Interpreting in Courts

The transcripts are all out for the three parliamentary hearings: the first by the Justice Select Committee (JSC), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), then the second JSC hearing. They follow the National Audit Office’s report.

What do we know now? Not much is new if you have been following the contract since January. What we have seen throughout the hearings is ministers and other government personnel attempting to defend their actions or lack of them. We also saw Gavin Wheeldon (ex-owner of ALS) still accusing interpreters of intimidation. Funny seeing how in reality it was the other way round, attempting to bully interpreters into less than the minimum wage. His legal team also threatened this blog with legal action. The government are still defending the contract even though the hearings clearly expose a lack of due diligence in awarding the contract, ignorance of a basic knowledge of interpreting including procedures that should have been in place for vetting and assessments and a complete lack of monitoring. This includes not allowing court staff to give the hearing figures they know will highlight delays, wasted costs and a failing of this contract.

There seems to be some allowance for what is now Capita Interpreting and Translation to get their act together although the boycott is a strong as ever. It is not clear how they will fulfil the contract when they check everyone registered with them has qualifications, as directed, and they have none.

The Capita machine rumbles on. They have bought Reliance who provide interpreters to Sussex Police. With these types of investments it looks like Capita will not be backing out of this contract even if it costs them to fix what, perhaps, they did not know was wrong. They have their fingers in the interpreting industry pie and are too big to get burnt. The share price even went down recently due to suspected lower profit margins in the public sector. Capita report they will still have an ‘organic’ 3% increase in profits this year.

What do we know about BSL interpreting under the contract? More interpreters have been on court training, more are being approached to work in courts regardless of level of experience outside of courts. Another two agencies are putting out court bookings who have never done so before. It used to be the case that generally the safest and best interpreters worked in courts. Now it is anyone registered (and some who aren’t). Deaf professionals who work in and outside of court report a denigration of standards and witnessing interpreters who do not know how to make the language accessible for some of their clients, especially the more vulnerable or people with minimal or idiosyncratic use of sign language. Some interpreters are still working for the contract and hang on doggedly to the argument that it is better to have some experienced people in court and show the government how it is done. That would either be naivety or self interest. The government is not interested and neither are the companies it outsources too. It takes voting with your feet. It has been said on this blog before: if BSL interpreters had boycotted this contract it would have failed within weeks.

In the meantime the contract is not going away so there should be some following of some unwritten rules (and some written ones):

Do not accept court work until you have been registered for three years and you are willing to pay for shadowing and mentoring in order to be safe.

Do not do police work before you have six months worth of experience in court. It all starts at the police station and if you make mistakes there you risk the whole case and thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money.

Do not accept work for which you are not capable of doing (regardless of whether you think you have because you have been on a two day training course. This only gives you knowledge and not necessarily the skills or experience to work in courts).

Ask your colleagues to monitor you and give you feedback. There should be a rule in court that every interpreter, for solicitor, barrister or court, monitors the working interpreter and flags up errors. I have had many conversations with experienced court interpreters who note that the role of the solicitor or barrister’s interpreter is misunderstood. You need to be good enough to monitor the court interpreter and confident enough to flag up those errors following the protocols of a court room. Even the court interpreting team should be monitoring each other, feeding each other and discussing their interpreting in breaks. This is especially true during evidence where you should be monitoring the way questions are interpreted as well as the response and how it is interpreted back into English. If you are not willing to accept feedback and enter into open discussions about your work, you should not be anywhere near a courtroom. Even if you have been working for courts for a while.

If you see an interpreter working in courts who does not have the appropriate skill level, whether you are a professional attending court, a Deaf person involved in the court process or another interpreter please inform them of your observations. If you need to, put in a complaint to the NRCPD. Interpreters who decide to work in courts should do so on the understanding that being subjected to a complaint is a reality. Not enough people are complaining about interpreters as they feel it breaks confidentiality. It does not. The complaint stays with the panel and those who already know the details of the situation. It is about time we all signed up to a certain level of transparency.

Lastly, read through the hearing transcripts. Do you really want to work in courts and be associated with this mess? Do you want to be responsible for a Deaf client not receiving access to justice? Or will you insist you are fine to work in a court and be like the interpreter who cost a 63 year old man £10k? Not only do you have your reputation at stake but the knowledge you are contributing to a wider continuation of a decline in interpreting standards and our terms and conditions.

BSL Presentation on Interpreters: A Change of Contract or a Change of Heart

A big thank you to Paul Neal of Neal Communications Agency (NCA) for making this video.

It is a completely accurate description, in BSL (transcript in English available), of what is currently happening to the sign language interpreting profession in the UK.

The registration system for interpreters is often misunderstood with Deaf people confusing level 6 in BSL as qualified and not realising interpreters need to complete interpreter training as well in order to register.

There is a good summary of the risks of using signers or CSWs, not only the obvious immediate risk to the Deaf community, but the short and long-term risks to the interpreting profession as a whole and the subsequent effect that will have on Deaf access if these trends are allowed to continue.

Other agencies seem to have misunderstood, are unaware of these risks or are actively using this to increase their own profits. Shockingly there are some Deaf-led agencies guilty of this, who do not have the insight to see the damage they do to their own community.

For me, NCA is the benchmark other agencies, especially Deaf-led, should aspire to follow as an agency with a complete understanding of the market, the risks to the interpreting profession and most importantly to the Deaf community we are all supposed to be here to serve.

Justice Select Committee Call for Evidence

As reported on this blog on 7th July there was news of parliament deciding to investigate the Ministry of Justice’s National Framework Agreement for interpreting and translation services for courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

If you have any evidence to submit of failures with the contract please see the information below which calls for evidence. Further information about how to make a submission to the Committee can be found on the link provided below.

The provision of registered interpreters that lack legal experience or who are unsafe to practice in legal settings is not a breach of contract so this type of evidence has to be submitted in terms of an agency failing to have the correct experience to undertake the contract.

What can be submitted is evidence, similar to that reported in this blog, which could include the following: the wrong provision such as interpreters provided when it should have been lipspeakers, bookings not made by courts or released too late to source an interpreter, provision of unregistered interpreters, costly delays and adjournments from failures to source an interpreter, interpreters asked by judges or panel members to interpret on their own or for different parties when another interpreter can not be sourced.

If you are submitting evidence it will strengthen the case if you can add dates and the court or tribunal in question. This then makes evidence real rather than anecdotal. It is understandable that confidentiality is a concern. Please make this clear when submitting evidence.

Due to work done by PR company Involvis on behalf of the Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign the issues have remained public with another flurry of reports of failures in the news.

An interpreter who could not attend a murder trial sent along her husband instead as she was too busy. If you wish to read some of the latest news there is an excellent round up on the LinguistLounge.org website.

Alongside the G4S Olympic games scandal with security, it can only be a matter of time before this contract is seen by all for what it is. Another expensive and dangerous outsourcing mistake by government.

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/interpretation-and-translation-services/

New Inquiry: Interpretation and Translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract

18 July 2012

The Justice Select Committee is launching a call for written evidence on the provision of interpretation and translation services since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) began operating as the Ministry of Justice’s sole contractor for language services in February 2012.

Specifically we will seek to explore six areas:

The rationale for changing arrangements for the provision of interpreter services
The nature and appropriateness of the procurement process
The experience of courts and prisons in receiving interpretation services that meet their needs
The nature and effectiveness of the complaints process
The steps that have been taken to rectify under-performance and the extent to which they have been effective
The appropriateness of arrangements for monitoring the management of the contract, including the quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered.
The deadline for submissions is Monday 3 September 2012.

Further information on how to submit evidence is on the website stated above.

Why I am Boycotting the Framework Agreement

I am boycotting all legal bookings connected to the Framework Agreement (FWA) as quite simply I believe the contract is wrong.

I do not agree that it is totally different for BSL interpreters. At the moment full rates of pay are being adhered to but cancellation fees are not. Indeed Clarion state there is now a three day cancellation period which is a huge drop to the majority of interpreters terms and conditions. I think it is scandalous to expect an interpreter to accept an assignment for a week or more with that time period in place, especially as there is no guarantee of filling those lost days with other bookings. I wonder how one is supposed to pay their mortgage, rent, bills and other expenses.

There are some excellent agencies in operation that respect the worth of interpreters and pay them accordingly. I think over the last few years many other companies have erroneously jumped on board the interpreting and translation bandwagon as they see it as an excellent way to make money on the backs of hardworking interpreters and translators. When tendering for contracts it appears they put in the lowest bid to win said contracts with little to no consultation with interpreters. If there is consultation it appears whatever interpreters say in regards to fees, additional costs and cancellations is ignored.

It appears in order for agencies to survive and make a profit they have systematically attempted and often succeeded in cutting rates of pay and ignoring interpreters own terms and conditions. Given comments from various sources in recent weeks it appears those interpreters willing to accept a lower rate of pay may have very little understanding of what they are actually worth. A colleague mentioned recently that when they were working as a Communication Support Worker (CSW) they were paid around £9.00 an hour and to be paid anything above this on a freelance basis seemed like a real coup. When some of these CSW’s then apply for Trainee status with the NRCPD (National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People) it is no wonder they are happy to accept a reduced rate of pay. In addition there is the risk that they do bookings which would be better suited to a qualified and more experienced interpreter.

I applaud those brilliant agencies that put D/deaf people and Non English Speakers (NES) at the forefront of their ethos by providing the right interpreter for the job at a fee that is commensurate with their skill. I worry that these agencies are being forever squeezed out of the market. I urge all interpreters to boycott this FWA and allow its demise. Signed and spoken language interpreters together can send out a clear message to agencies that supply interpreting provision to local government, health and more; that they need to respect an interpreter’s worth and put in tenders that reflect this.

It now appears Applied Language Solutions, now part of Capita, have in the past few months lost a number of their management team and according to Linkedin Applied Language Solutions founder and CEO Gavin Wheeldon has also left http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gavin-wheeldon/4/a69/230.

The daily reports on the Linguist Lounge website and the enormous amount of tweets being circulated continue to show the boycott is working. It is making a difference.

Paula Fye, Registered Sign Language Interpreter

The MoJ Interpreting Contract Fiasco: Is It Over?

Anecdotal reports over the past few weeks have pointed to continued failures of provision of interpreters to the MoJ. Interpreters are still travelling from Birmingham to London for a morning’s work then failing to stay for the afternoon leaving courts stranded as the only way a ‘linguist’, i.e. untrained interpreter, can make a living is by increasing their travel expenses.

The ‘linguist’ who caused a collapsed trial to the tune of £25k was seen working in courts again despite the collapse being in the papers.

West Midlands Police are letting suspects out on bail as it is taking days to get someone to come to the station, once this reportedly included witnesses in a murder case.

Criminals who have not been CRB checked are working in courts as ‘linguists’ and are reportedly ‘helping their mates stay out of jail.’

Other reports suggest some courts have given up using the national framework agreement (FWA) altogether and are back to sourcing their own interpreters. This would be one reason that would explain, amongst others, why many more court bookings are coming through a variety of agencies for Sign Language Interpreters.

Key ALS executives, David Joseph and Richard Loyer, amongst others, who were in charge of interpreting have reportedly left and joined a translation company called Language Wire and Gavin Wheeldon no longer has ALS as current on his LinkedIn profile and is now working for a catering company.

The misinformation that has been coming out from Minsters, namely Crispin Blunt, that interpreters earned six figure salaries, that the old system was a complete mess and that the new all-singing, all-dancing systems were going to save millions was always going to be hard to counteract.

The problem for government has always been that the figures the proposed savings were calculated on were created out of thin air. This is why FOI’s have gone unanswered. There are no figures. The only figures we have were created by the company themselves. Rather than proper research, a comprehensive scoping exercise with well thought out recommendations, what really happened was the contract was given to the lowest bidder and we were left with a mess.

It may seem quiet. It isn’t. It is just that the media is waiting for the outcome of the political fight which is happening behind closed doors and about to come to fruition. Hats off to the Professional Interpreters for Justice, Unite the Union, the Professional Interpreters’ Alliance, APCI, SPSI and all the interpreters who have held firm and boycotted the contract at risk of losing their livelihoods, their homes. What we have now is stalemate.

MP Magaret Hodge took the concerns of interpreters to the National Audit Office and the contract is being investigated. Dossiers of the many failures observed by interpreters monitoring the courts when they had no work have been produced as evidence. The Public Accounts Office have been alerted. So too the Justice Select Committee. A parliamentary event for MPs is being organised.

In the contract, failure to supply results in penalties. Judges who are minded to do so when cases have been adjourned have charged ALS with wasted costs orders. The barrister costs for each time a wasted costs order is brought must be substantial. The other penalties in the form of service credits as stated in the FWA can not be profitable. The proposed figure that Capita is losing on this contract that I have heard from three difference sources is a hefty sum. Per week. Capita can afford to take the loss but why keep a contract that does not and cannot perform?

The original business model was to supply language speakers within a 25 miles radius cheaply to courts having made these potential ‘interpreters’ pay for their own assessments at £125. That got dropped within weeks of the start of the contract to ‘free’ when noone would work for this company, then the assessment was dropped altogether. ALS are reportedly now saying that they will insist their interpreters are properly qualified and they should have passed the DPSI exam. The weekly updates of proposed service improvments mean that the original business model barely exists. It can not be profitable any longer and with growing political pressure it is surely only a matter of time before talks with interpreting associations will resume and alternatives to this fiasco will be tabled.

We are looking at a real opportunity. No longer do the media label interpreters as scroungers, the courts can recognise an interpreter of quality and work can be done with government on ensuring trained, registered interpreters are in court working for fair pay, and being respected for it. And the government could save money if it learns its lesson and works with the interpreting associations rather than against. They’ll be a lot of people soon saying I told you so.

Monitoring the MoJ

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) started the national language services framework on 30 January 2012. As stated in the agreement the contract would be monitored by the MoJ and covers interpreting across HM Courts and Tribunals Service which covers England and Wales.

The first three month period finished on 30th April. The long awaited stats were released and published on the MoJ website on the 24th May.

The general stats reveal there were 26,059 requests in total for an interpreter. The MoJ (i.e. ALS) say that 11% of these requests were cancelled by the courts. Interpreters report that court staff were being pressurised by ALS staff to report a request as cancelled if they could not fulfil it.

Stats say that of the remaining bookings, 81% of bookings were filled. That leaves 8% unfilled plus whichever proportion of the bookings were falsely recorded as cancellations.

The contract stated there should be a 98% fill rate. The 8% equates to 2,085 bookings, further increased by ‘cancellations’ over the period of three months. This is a clear indication this contract is not working.

Let’s bear in mind the 98% contractual obligation and the fact some courts had given up by March and started to book interpreters directly and some just decided not book an interpreter at all. This started to happen in March for BSL as reported on this blog and recent reports suggest this practice continues. The MoJ had also entered not into a one stop shop but what ALS were starting to call a mixed economy. This is the reality of why the stats improved by month.

There is scant information in the summary report of BSL but none at all in the Excel spreadsheet of raw data. The report states that for courts ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ was the 18th most popular category with 241 completed requests. 190 of those were for BSL. For tribunals the summary reports states there were 163 requests, 127 of which were BSL making ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ the 16th most popular in this category.

As an aside the word ‘popular’ in the report conjures up images of people having a choice of what language they request. It is an inappropriate choice of words. ‘Deaf and deafblind languages’ is a clear misunderstanding of this category which includes lip speaking and as stated on page eight finger spelling. We have seen these kind of misunderstandings on the websites of spoken language agencies trying to break into the BSL market for years. One would think for such a large government contract that someone would have made sure they got it right. It is a clear demonstration of a company that does not understand the Deaf community and the access it requires.

Further, it is interesting to note the Excel spreadsheets have tables breaking down requests for the top 20 languages but though the report states BSL is in the top 20 for both courts and tribunals it does not feature in the tables.

We therefore have no data in either the spreadsheet or the report to say how many requests there were in total and how many could not be filled. The only figures available to us are how many bookings were filled which total 404 including lipspeakers and other ‘deaf languages’. The subcontractor (or preferred supplier) states on their website they filled 94% of the 610 received bookings making 573 bookings which does not match the MoJ’s published statistics. As with spoken language bookings not all bookings at the start of the contract were booked though the main supplier as the MoJ were honouring existing bookings for dates in advance which included bookings into February and March. Furthermore this indicates a shortfall of the 98% target using these figures.

In some ways the stats are exactly what everyone expected. They were not produced by the MoJ but the company who won the contract. There has been no independent monitoring and deliberate obfuscation. The British taxpayer does not know what our funds are being spent on and whether this contract is value for money. FOI requests to the MoJ by interpreters and other interested parties have been refused since the contract started. The MoJ has cited that the cost of centrally recording data was too prohibitive and therefore the FOI requests did not have to be fulfilled. People started to send FOI’s directly to courts to ask questions such as how many times had an interpreter not been provided and whether ‘no shows’ had occurred where an interpreter is promised and does not turn up. Questions are still not being answered. Letters and FOI requests get forwarded to MoJ central where the answer is that data collection is… too prohibitive.

In this report for BSL we have only a few sentences to guide us and no transparency as to how many bookings were unfilled. We have no breakdown within the category of ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ either by cancellation, adjournments, filled bookings or no shows.

The report does not give us any useful information. We are left with the knowledge that this company does not fully understand how to give Deaf people access to the courts, that real data is not being provided, that the MoJ is not monitoring the contract and Deaf access has been relegated to a small part of a very large, unsustainable and unsuccessful contract.