House of Commons launches probe into MoJ interpreting contract

The House of Commons justice select committee has launched an inquiry into how Applied Languages Solutions (ALS) was awarded a contract to act as the sole supplier for court interpreters throughout England and Wales.

The inquiry follows months of chaos in court rooms as interpreters supplied by ALS made crucial interpreting errors, turned up late and in some cases did turn up not at all. The new system was brought in by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in January to reportedly save the Government an estimated £18m a year, but since then a large number of trials have collapsed and repeatedly been readjourned and the Government has been issued with several wasted costs orders following these retrials (9 March 2012).

The inquiry, which was launched on 18 July, proposes to investigate the rationale behind the MoJ’s decision to change the arrangements for supplying court interpreters across England and Wales; the nature and appropriateness of the procurement process; the experience of courts and prisons in receiving interpretation services that meet their needs; the nature and effectiveness of the complaints process; the steps that have been taken to rectify underperformance; and the extent to which they have been effective and the appropriateness of the current arrangements for monitoring the management of the contract, including the quality and cost-effectiveness of the service currently delivered.

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) for a temporary period in an effort to curtail the problem (23 February 2012).

In April The Lawyer revealed that an interpreting error in Snaresbrook Crown Court caused a a trial to be adjourned and the estimated costs for retrial were in the realm of £25,000 (17 April 2012).

ALS was granted the interpreting contract by the MoJ last August and was acquired by Capita Group for £7.5m in December 2011.

In an email seen by The Lawyer earlier this year, Gavin Wheeldon, who founded ALS in 2003, said: “35 per cent of all courts have not missed a single booking.” In a bid to convince more people to sign up to the scheme, in the email he also offered interpreters £250 as a ’recruit a friend’ bonus (9 March 2012).

Wheeldon left the company last week “to pursue other interests,” a spokesperson from Capita told The Lawyer. In relation to his departure, a Capita spokesperson said: “We thank Gavin for helping to integrate ALS into Capita and wish him well with his new business initiatives.” Capita declined to comment specifically on the justice select committee’s inquiry.

Commenting on the inquiry, an MoJ spokesperson said: “There were an unacceptable number of problems at the start of the new contract in January but we’ve now seen a significant improvement in performance. We continue to work with the contractor to bring performance to the required level.”