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Monitoring the MoJ

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) started the national language services framework on 30 January 2012. As stated in the agreement the contract would be monitored by the MoJ and covers interpreting across HM Courts and Tribunals Service which covers England and Wales.
The first three month period finished on 30th April. The long awaited stats were released and published on the MoJ website on the 24th May.
The general stats reveal there were 26,059 requests in total for an interpreter. The MoJ (i.e. ALS) say that 11% of these requests were cancelled by the courts. Interpreters report that court staff were being pressurised by ALS staff to report a request as cancelled if they could not fulfil it.
Stats say that of the remaining bookings, 81% of bookings were filled. That leaves 8% unfilled plus whichever proportion of the bookings were falsely recorded as cancellations.
The contract stated there should be a 98% fill rate. The 8% equates to 2,085 bookings, further increased by ‘cancellations’ over the period of three months. This is a clear indication this contract is not working.
Let’s bear in mind the 98% contractual obligation and the fact some courts had given up by March and started to book interpreters directly and some just decided not book an interpreter at all. This started to happen in March for BSL as reported on this blog and recent reports suggest this practice continues. The MoJ had also entered not into a one stop shop but what ALS were starting to call a mixed economy. This is the reality of why the stats improved by month.
There is scant information in the summary report of BSL but none at all in the Excel spreadsheet of raw data. The report states that for courts ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ was the 18th most popular category with 241 completed requests. 190 of those were for BSL. For tribunals the summary reports states there were 163 requests, 127 of which were BSL making ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ the 16th most popular in this category.
As an aside the word ‘popular’ in the report conjures up images of people having a choice of what language they request. It is an inappropriate choice of words. ‘Deaf and deafblind languages’ is a clear misunderstanding of this category which includes lip speaking and as stated on page eight finger spelling. We have seen these kind of misunderstandings on the websites of spoken language agencies trying to break into the BSL market for years. One would think for such a large government contract that someone would have made sure they got it right. It is a clear demonstration of a company that does not understand the Deaf community and the access it requires.
Further, it is interesting to note the Excel spreadsheets have tables breaking down requests for the top 20 languages but though the report states BSL is in the top 20 for both courts and tribunals it does not feature in the tables.
We therefore have no data in either the spreadsheet or the report to say how many requests there were in total and how many could not be filled. The only figures available to us are how many bookings were filled which total 404 including lipspeakers and other ‘deaf languages’. The subcontractor (or preferred supplier) states on their website they filled 94% of the 610 received bookings making 573 bookings which does not match the MoJ’s published statistics. As with spoken language bookings not all bookings at the start of the contract were booked though the main supplier as the MoJ were honouring existing bookings for dates in advance which included bookings into February and March. Furthermore this indicates a shortfall of the 98% target using these figures.
In some ways the stats are exactly what everyone expected. They were not produced by the MoJ but the company who won the contract. There has been no independent monitoring and deliberate obfuscation. The British taxpayer does not know what our funds are being spent on and whether this contract is value for money. FOI requests to the MoJ by interpreters and other interested parties have been refused since the contract started. The MoJ has cited that the cost of centrally recording data was too prohibitive and therefore the FOI requests did not have to be fulfilled. People started to send FOI’s directly to courts to ask questions such as how many times had an interpreter not been provided and whether ‘no shows’ had occurred where an interpreter is promised and does not turn up. Questions are still not being answered. Letters and FOI requests get forwarded to MoJ central where the answer is that data collection is… too prohibitive.
In this report for BSL we have only a few sentences to guide us and no transparency as to how many bookings were unfilled. We have no breakdown within the category of ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ either by cancellation, adjournments, filled bookings or no shows.
The report does not give us any useful information. We are left with the knowledge that this company does not fully understand how to give Deaf people access to the courts, that real data is not being provided, that the MoJ is not monitoring the contract and Deaf access has been relegated to a small part of a very large, unsustainable and unsuccessful contract.

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