Suffolk: Parliamentary inquiry into court interpreter shambles welcomed

A TOP-level inquiry into the shambolic new court interpreter system – highlighted by The Star earlier this year – was welcomed today.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is one of the members of the Justice Select Committee inquiring into the multi-million pound contract operated by Oldham-based Applied Language Solutions (ALS).

The MPs have asked for written evidence by September 3 relating to the service, which was branded a farce and a disaster by solicitors in Ipswich after interpreters failed to turned up for hearings.

Defence solicitors in the town have applauded the inquiry being set up, but said the government must also take its share of responsibility, as the contract, which began on January 30, was seen as a way of reducing costs.

Neil Saunders, of Saunders, Goodin and Riddleston in Queen Street, Ipswich, said: “The inquiry is a very good thing provided the government realise their own complicity by virtue of going for the cheapest option, which is never a good idea.

“The committee has got to get to the bottom of what has happened and acknowledge it is not entirely the fault of ALS. The government, which set the agenda, has to share some of the blame.”

John Hughes, of Barricella, Hughes and Marchant in Buttermarket, Ipswich, said: “I believe it is good that this matter is going to go before a select committee and bring it out into the open. While they have managed to get more interpreters here at the court, it’s still not as good as it was.”

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Lawyers around the country, the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI) and the Society for Public Service Interpreting (SPSI), have heavily criticised the new service in the past seven months.

Geoffrey Buckingham, chairman of APCI, said: “This outsourced contract bears all the same hallmarks as the outsourced contract for security hitting the headlines currently.

“ALS is consistently failing to meet the terms of its �75million annual contract agreement, which the professional interpreter bodies have refused to be a part of from the start.”

ALS has stressed it was aware of problems and improvements would be made. Many Suffolk interpreters had refused to work for the company as they say it has reduced their fees.

Justice Minister Lord McNally has admitted estimated savings of �12m in the contract’s first year – already revised down from the initial estimate of �18m – will “probably not be achieved”.