Interpreting error leads to £25,000 retrial costs

A trial at a London court collapsed last Friday after it was revealed that an interpreter employed by Applied Language Solutions had made an interpreting error. 

During the trial for burglary, which started at Snaresbrook Crown Court last Tuesday (10 April), a Romanian-speaking defendant was interpreted as saying that they had been “bitten” by the claimant. It was only on Friday during cross-examination when the defendant was asked to produce photographic evidence of the bite mark that the error was revealed. The claimant had in fact said that they had been “beaten”. Once the mistake was out, the interpreter admitted on the spot that they had realised the error at the time but did not mention it to the court.

Following the revelation, the trial was immediately suspended and the jury was discharged. There will be a hearing this Wednesday (18 April) to decide how the trial will proceed but it is already estimated that the cost to retry the case will be in the realm of £25,000.

The incident is one of a growing list of trials that have collapsed and repeatedly been readjourned due to problems with the government’s new provider for court interpreters, a system which was implemented on 30 January 2012 in courts across England and Wales (20 February 2012).

In February The Lawyer reported that the MoJ had decided to allow courts to revert to the old system of selecting interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) in order to avoid further hearings being adjourned as a result of interpreters from a new agency failing to turn up to court (23 February 2012).

Dhaneshwar Sharma of Sharma Law Solicitors has been forced to issue several wasted costs orders against ALS (9 March 2012). His firm was representing the defendant in the recent Snaresbrook case.

“Even when you put costs aside, this is a 13-year-old girl who will have to come back again to court and give evidence again. It would be traumatic enough for an adult to give this kind of evidence, let alone for a girl of her age. The worrying thing about this case is that it shows how the government’s new system is leading to miscarriages of justice.”

Although Sharma said he had had one good experience with an ALS interpreter, he says the situation is still not good enough. “Out of all the interpreters I’ve used from ALS, there’s been just one good one. My clients deserve proper representation and proper interpreters. I want to know what the MoJ proposes to do about the situation. The system is no longer in the early stages anymore, so they can’t make excuses. I also want to know what organisations like the Law Society and the Legal Services Commission are doing when they are getting so many concerns from solicitors about how their clients are being so poorly represented.”

A number of solicitors have contacted The Lawyer to voice their concerns over the inadequacies of the new court interpreting system (16 February 2012).