Interpreter Monopoly in UK Leads to Courtroom Chaos

by Translation Guy on September 19, 2012

Applied Language Services, awarded a monopoly contract to supply interpreters to the British Ministry of Justice earlier this year, has been unable to deliver, according to an audit published by the National Audit Office in the UK.

This monopoly fail was caused by the refusal of large numbers of British court interpreters to accept ALS rates, which are about half the rate they had earned when working directly for the courts under the old system. ALS was actually able to supply interpreters for only 58% of hearings in February 2012. Cancelled hearings, release of suspects and compensation claims were the result. As the UK court system went into translation lockdown, critics called for contempt of court proceedings against the firm, and authorities allowed courts to hire interpreters directly to keep the wheels of justice creaking.

Guillermo Makin, chairman of Society for Public Service Interpreting said this summer: “Professionally qualified and experienced interpreters have valiantly upheld their ethical principles by not signing up for a system which cannot be sustained and which is degrading British justice and breaking the law on a person’s right to a fair trial.”

Without a bench of qualified interpreters, ALS went into morgue mode, sending out  interpreter zombies  after the pros had made themselves scarce. Manchester interpreter Syed Ajman Ali reported one such incident to the Guardian. “At an immigration tribunal in Manchester, a Czech au-pair came. She had never been in court before and she asked us, ‘How do you address the judge? Is it your highness or your excellency?’ “ Not a good sign.

Certification standards were disregarded. “ALS could not even guarantee that interpreters had undergone mandatory criminal records checks,” according to the NAO report.

The MoJ has blamed the fiasco on the interpreters who refuse to accept the new rates. Justice minister Crispin Blunt blamed the ‘grossly overpaid’ interpreters ‘taking advantage of the system’ for the need to outsource the court contract to the monopoly in the first place.

Despite continuing criticism, the Ministry has been vociferous in defense of their decision. Perhaps this is a defensive action since the report sharply criticized the Ministry for disregarding the limited capabilities of ALS to perform the contract and the grumblings of linguists in stakeholder sessions held before award of the contract.

Leaving aside the injustice and inequity of all this for a moment, this sounds like one sweet gig. I want clients who stick up for me if I only deliver 66% of the time. Guess I’ve got to start checking the  “Monopolies Wanted” section on ProZ.

Translation and interpreter compensation is under attack from many directions and the the law of supply and demand crushes all in its path. I will return to this subject at a later date.

Also apologies to Ninja fans for no part two as promised in a previous post. I’m saving that for another time, like when I have time to write it.


  1. Laura says:

    Hi TG, please do ‘return to that subject at a later date’! Regards, LmS

  2. Al Navas says:

    Please explain what you mean in the caption to the photo:

    “Her complaints will amuse anyone who has done the same.”

    I know Mirela. She is a champion for the rights of properly qualified interpreters in the U.K.

    I look forward to your explanation, or to a correction to the caption. Thanks!


    • Ken says:

      The crazy stuff that happens in courts can make you laugh or cry, and are familiar to anyone who has spent even a day in court. Stet.

      My question for you. Exactly what are the rights you refer to? I am unfamiliar with the Properly Qualified UK Interpreter Clause enshrined in the British constitution. Not that it isn’t a shame all those ‘terps got screwed and short-changed. I look forward to your explanation.

  3. I imagine many of these cases must have had the lawyers licking their chops about appeals.

  4. Thanks for the great article, this kind of news should be more widely spread, its a travesty

  5. Bill Hudgins says:

    My god, this is real, you’re not joking?

  6. Anna Corbett says:

    Someone should just sue over this.

    • Ken says:

      That’s the American way.

  7. I am not amused at all!
    It has been brought to my attention by my fellow colleagues and friends,your blog which doesn’t quite makes sense stating” her complaints will amuse anyone who has done the same”- meaning exactly what?
    Also using my photo without my consent is also not right,is it Ken?
    Look forward to an explanation or even a correction!
    Or even maybe an apology!

    • Ken says:

      The way I write does not amuse you. Got it.

      The way you write amuses me. Get it?

      That picture is not your picture, it is a picture of you. It belongs to the Guardian’s. No Photo credit that I could see, but I’ll bet they appreciate the link, as you should too. Didn’t they teach you in champion class not to bite the hand that links to you?

      • Don’t be such a troll Mirela.

  8. The UK is a cauldron of madness these days when it comes to government contracts, the monopoly was probably given with little regard to quality and purely based on home much the government could save.

  9. Al Navas says:

    @sherry: “Savings” are only in dollars, or Euros. The social cost will be astronomical. Never mind the cost to justice, now in shambles.

    @Mirela: KUDOS for speaking up. Please see my comment, second in the section. NO regard for fellow professionals. I am dumbfounded by the total lack of respect.

    • Ken says:

      I deny the charge! My lack of respect is no more total than your dumbfoundedness!

  10. C says:

    Sadly another victim of fiscal crunch in the UK

  11. Tammy says:

    Monopolies are never good, and usually illegal, I can’t see how this was allowed.

  12. Marc Starr says:

    I’m overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia for an age yet to come.

  13. Look forward to more articles like this, great stuff, or rather quite tragic.

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