There is an ongoing fiasco occurring in our courts at the moment. It is a situation that has the potential to turn into both a financial and judicial disaster. Financial in that it could cost the taxpayer additional money in compensation payouts. Judicial in that guilty people may walk free and innocent people may be jailed.
Essentially the government – specifically the Ministry of Justice decided to privatise the public service which supplied interpreters to courts. Now I’m not exactly sure what the decision making process was that led to the decision however once made they went through a tender process and appointed Applied Language Services (ALS) as the organisation that would supply interpreters to courts across England and Wales awarding them a 300 million pound contract.
Tom Pride has written an illuminating article about this process which reveals that the company was originally set up by one budding entrepreneur Gavin Wheeldon in his bedroom.
Since the award of the Court interpreting contract there has been a drastic decline in the service the courts are receiving. The contract was taken over by Capita in December 2011 who have the difficult some say impossible task of turning this around. Capita have very recently acquired Reliance Secure Task Management Ltd and Reliance Medical Services Ltd who are responsible for the provision of interpreting services to Sussex Police.
This appears to be completely above board and is normal business in the commercial world. I for one was rather impressed with Gavin Wheeldon’s entrepreneurial spirit as you will see if you read the comments section of Tom Pride’s post referred to above.
However where this process begins to go wrong is in the actual delivery of interpreters at court.
This is a vital service which enables courts to carry out their day to day business when dealing with persons who appear before them in relation to criminal offences where those persons do not have a sufficient grasp of the English language to communicate with the court.
It is becoming apparent that in a number of cases trials are being delayed and people are being remanded in custody where they have not had adequate interpreting services made available to them.
Some people may think that anyone who is remanded in custody because they cannot speak English only has themselves to blame.
However where that thought process goes wrong is that the Human Rights Act states that a person has the Right to a Fair trial and a person has a right to Liberty and Freedom.
One of my concerns is that there are a number of people who are not receiving a fair trial or their liberty and freedom because they are not being properly represented and enabled to adequately explain their position in court. It could even be argued that the human right to No discrimination is also being breached because possibly a person’s rights are beached on the grounds of race or ethnic origin because they cannot speak English?
The last I heard the going rate for an unlawful detention was about two thousand pounds per hour? I wonder how long it will be before a solicitor or lawyer challenges the detention of an individual suing on their behalf on the basis that their right to a fair trial or liberty was impeded because they did not have a suitably trained interpreter at court to represent them?
I have no idea how many individuals may be affected by this but it is a good example of the governments rush to privatise without actually having a clue about the complexity of the service they were privatising.
In some ways it reminds me of the recent West coast mainline fiasco whereby taxpayers will foot the bill which was estimated to be around 40 million by the government and closer to 100 million by other sources.