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Court interpreting update…

The latest instalment of the largest interpreting contract ever awarded in the UK and its disastrous consequences:
As a result of the Justice Committee Report last year Capita announced that from 1st May rates would be raised for:
Cancellations – an interpreter, rather than receiving nothing previously, will be paid £21 for a cancellation of up to 24 hours. This includes multi-day bookings.
A mileage payment of £0.20 (twenty pence per mile) for the entire distance travelled per assignment including the first ten miles (which was not paid previously).
The minimum payment of one hour is unchanged: £16 for a tier 3 interpreter. (check!!). Extra payments will be made for 15 minute blocks which amount to an extra 7 minutes pay or £2.56.
An incidental fee of £7.50 to cover any additional costs. In Capita’s announcement there was no explanation to what this may cover and when it would be paid.
In a parliamentary announcement by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), it was stated that these incentives would increase the take home pay of interpreters by 22% but the feeling is too little, too late.
How have this incentives been paid for? From savings of £16.7 million the MoJ have stated they are reinvesting £2.9 million back into the contract. This neither makes sense nor is practical. Were the contract working it would not need further investment by the MoJ. Essentially this is taxpayers’ savings that are being reinvested, except the supposed savings still do not add up when you factor in the costs of delays, adjournments and mistrials. One figure suggests it costs £110 per minute to run a courtroom with a jury. Any interpreter delay, and there are many, makes a mockery out the purported savings.
Has this reinvestment worked so far? Quite simply, no. Direct calls from courts to interpreters with training, i.e. NRPSI registered interpreters still remains high. This is the true indication of the appalling nature of awarding a contract via a competitive bidding process where the lowest bidder wins regardless of quality. Capita are only filling 80% of bookings when the contract target is 98%. Still MoJ is not dishing out penalties and courts are filing few wasted costs orders. It seems that when it comes to this contract, Capita can do what it likes.
The interpreting contract is now 18 months in and whilst this mess has continued, lawyers are now in the firing line. The MoJ has proposed price-competitive tendering (PCT) for legal aid work, the ultimate aim of which is to slash budgets along with consumer choice and quality of work.
Where are British Sign Language Interpreters in all of this? Reports suggest one agency involved is attempting to slash rates even further despite original recommendations. Key personnel have left leaving court work more bereft of the most skilled and those doing the work are, also reportedly, not the best anymore. With no consistency in how BSL interpreters wish to move forward, NRPSI interpreters and campaigns are left without little representation from us. Meanwhile government decisions effecting NRPSI are having a knock on effect on BSL interpreters with many of us being none the wiser. It is time we took more notice of what is going on in the wider field of interpreting as it affects us all.
Recent Commons debate on 20th June 2013
Analysis and comment from spoken language interpreters

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  1. Thank you for spelling it out – as a spoken language interpreter I am also surprised that sign language intepreters did not join forces with us within the Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign. You ask why? In my opinion – because some sign language interpreters (the ones who are the decision makers) consider themselves superior to us. A great pity that they thought that they could win something by joining MoJ in indirectly criticising spoken language interpreters (I refer to ASLI submission to MoJ in 2010).

    • I don’t think it’s as simple as that. The MoJ were asked in consultation to only use NRCPD registered sign language interpreters (RSLIs) as per the National Agreement. On the whole that is happening and terms and conditions have only been squeezed slightly in comparison to what spoken language interpreters have had to put up with.
      Therefore the relatively small minority of RSLIs who work in courts seem to have put up with changes in their working conditions. This is disappointing as there has definitely been a drop in both T&Cs as well as standards in general though few want to campaign about it.
      IMHO interpreters need to be talking collectively about outsourcing and how to ensure standards are maintained. Our registers are important, our communities are suffering and we need to all be working strategically towards protection of title. That’s what I’d like to see more dialogue about.