Court translators who listed a DOG in its staff is fined just 2,200 despite errors that let criminals walk freeALS was signed up to provide translators for courts in England, but had fewer than a quarter of staff neededCommons Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge said the failings led to 'chaos in the courts'She blasts fine by Ministry of Justice as 'risible'
In one case a murder trial went ahead with a beautician translating
10:39 GMT, 14 December 2012
'Risible': Margaret Hodge MP said the episode was an 'object lesson' in how not to contract out a public service
A courtroom translation firm that had a dog listed on its books has been fined 'a risible' 2,200, despite letting cases collapse and criminals walk free because it could not provide qualified interpreters.
Dozens of foreign criminals were left on the streets as hundreds of trials collapsed because no-one was qualified to translate proceedings.
Despite a warning that it couldn’t handle the contract, a tiny company, ALS, was signed up to provide translators for all courts in England. It had fewer than a quarter of the staff needed.
The firm launched a huge recruitment drive but was exposed for signing up unqualified staff. In one case an applicant even signed up their dog, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found.
Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairman said the episode was an ‘object lesson’ in how not to contract out a public service.
The company’s failings led to ‘total chaos’ in the courts, she said, adding: ‘Court officials have had to scramble to find qualified interpreters at short notice; there has been a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling.
‘Despite this, the Ministry has only penalized the supplier a risible 2,200.’
The ‘catastrophic’ shortage of interpreters forced some courts to rely on Google Translate, the committee was told.
Between January and March this year, 182 trials in magistrates courts and more in crown courts have collapsed. As a result, suspects were released back on the streets and an expensive retrial scheduled.
Company website: ALS, which was taken over by Capita in late 2011, advertises a range of services on its website
In other cases trials were delayed for days on end while courts searched for translators.
Until January this year, courts employed local interpreters, but as part of money-saving moves a contract for the whole country was handed to ALS following a tendering process.
The firm had just 280 staff compared to the 1,200 needed. As a result, unqualified interpreters were sent to court, as well as those who spoke the wrong language.
'There has been a sharp rise in delayed,
postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand
solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of
interpreters has at times been appalling'
– Margaret Hodge MP
In one case a murder trial went ahead with a beautician translating.
The reforms were supposed to save 18million a year but the chaos means not a penny will be saved this year.
The committee demanded tougher punishments for the firm as it condemned ALS’s poor performance and failings by Ministry of Justice officials who handed it the contract.
The report concluded that ‘risible levels of penalties and low expectations of performance allow private companies to get away with over-promising and under-delivering’.
Justice Minister Helen Grant said: ‘The Ministry of Justice had strong reasons to change the old interpreter booking system, which the National Audit Office acknowledged was inadequate in several respects and which the Public Accounts Committee accepts was administratively inefficient.
‘We have now seen a major improvement in performance – more than 95 per cent of bookings are now being filled, complaints have fallen dramatically and we are continuing to push for further improvement.
‘We remain confident the contract will make the expected saving of 15 million a year for the Ministry of Justice.’