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Interpreter Monopoly in UK Leads to Courtroom Chaos
September 19, 2012 - By: - In: Interpretation - Comments Off on Interpreter Monopoly in UK Leads to Courtroom Chaos

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.

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