Cheap Interpreting on Trial

Court interpreting

Court interpreting

The Lesson of Cheap Price Contracts

The failure of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) contract to supply interpreters for court cases was widely covered in the local and national press. The contract was originally signed with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), a company later acquired by Capita. This article is not meant to be a protest as some interpreters have done, it just highlights the reasons for some of the failures under this contract. With many years of experience in the translation and interpreting business, I knew that problems with serious consequences were likely.

From the MOJ‘s point of view, they focussed on the savings made by centralising through a single company, but failed to appreciate the process of employing experienced interpreters, particularly in the legal sphere. The common adage is that the lowest price isn’t always the cheapest in the long run, and you do tend to get what you pay for.

The contract failed to deliver on two major counts, firstly the MOJ mistakenly thought they were getting a bargain but did not see or did not want to see the obvious, if you pay less you get less, and in this case lower quality, with some interpreters not turning up. Of the interpreters that did turn up some were not able to interpret at all and others were seriously deficient and were rejected by the courts. All this is well documented in press and industry reports where you can read about the many failures.

Secondly, promises of high quality interpreters could not always be fulfilled because of the cheaper prices on offer. The prices are so cheap that qualified and experienced professionals will not work for these prices, so they rely on inexperienced persons, students, people working in restaurants who speak the language. Interpreting at this level though requires more than just an apprentice interpreter, bilingual or partially bilingual person. Again if you pay a bargain price, then it practically means that the company can only use cheaper interpreters with less experience, and consequential problems.

Even cheap interpreters will not turn up when they realise the money they are being paid barely covers their expenses as highlighted by the following quote from the Sunday Express article published Sun, May 12, 2013, entitled ‘Interpreter’s ‘low pay’ halts a trial‘:

Mr Justice Julian Flaux

Mr Justice Julian Flaux

A FURIOUS Crown Court judge had to adjourn a murder hearing because a Mandarin interpreter refused to turn up, claiming he would “not be making enough money”. The judge hit out when he was forced to halt the case against Chinese businessman Anxiang Du, from Coventry, who is accused of killing four members of a family in Northampton in 2011. The clerk at Nottingham Crown Court said he had been told it was “not worthwhile” for an interpreter to turn up. Mr Justice Julian Flaux said: “It would be completely unfair on Mr Du to go ahead without an interpreter. To say I am annoyed is an understatement. I will be asking for a written explanation. It is a complete disgrace.”

It is the latest row to hit the newly centralised interpreter service supplied by Capita Translation and Interpreting. The deal has seen fees slashed, with interpreters no longer paid for time spent with defendants before they enter court, leading to an increasing number of hearings being abandoned. Courts say they are now having to bypass the system “more than 50 per cent of the time” as interpreters either fail to turn up, or are not qualified to do the job if they do arrive.

As Capita said on their website after their acquisition of ALS on 23 December 2011:

ALS provides translation and interpreting services to the public and private sector… ALS made a pro forma operating loss for its financial year to May 2011 of £0.3m on turnover of £10.6m. 

ALS, which will form a new standalone business within the Capita Group, has around 130 employees based in the UK, India, Europe and the US and contracts 17,000 translators across the globe.

These are big claims indeed, but surely the important aspect is having a quality relationship with quality interpreters who are trusted to deliver the services needed by the client. The Courts are now having to bypass the system in over 50% of the cases which will increase the cost considerably.

The Lesson? The lowest price isn’t always the cheapest when things go wrong. Cheap interpreting contracts don’t necessarily attract the best quality personnel. If you need quality translation or interpreting services, who would you rather use for your translation and interpreting work? Braulio Ramos Language Services prides itself on providing experience and nuance as standard.

Comments are closed.