Interpreting and translation: Ministry of Injustice?

On 5th July 2011 the Ministry of Justice announced that in order to make cuts in spending it had decided to contract to one single supplier for the provision of all translation and interpreting services. In essence this new Framework Agreement will mean that the well-established National Register for Public Service Interpreters will become redundant.

Following the announcement that the provision of language services has been awarded to the company Applied Language Solutions (ALS) after a 12 month procurement process, there has been much outcry from the translation and interpreting industry. Up until now, services provided to the Ministry of Justice have been governed by a national agreement whereby all language providers must be registered with the NRPSI. But, according to industry professionals and opponents to the scheme, the new scheme is likely to lower the quality of services provided.

The NRPSI is synonymous with high standards of quality, practice, and guaranteed aid to non-native English speakers finding themselves in the justice system. Before being allowed to join the register, linguists are required to undergo a vigorous and thorough assessment and qualification process- which they are required to update on a yearly basis. The register has been developed over many years and is recognised nationally and internationally as “the gold standard of quality for public service interpretation[1]”.

Critics are thus concerned that taking the provision of language services out of the hands of the NRPSI will endanger vulnerable people of society i.e. non-English speaking minorities within the criminal justice system. The new provision of services by commercial companies, who could potentially employ under qualified and incompetent translators and interpreters, could lead to gross miscarriages of justice. Without the guarantee of quality or upholding of industry standards from the NRPSI there is no assurance of justice, only of money saving initiatives.

However, a spokesperson for APS has assured opponents that interpreter standards “will be ascertained through an external and completely independent assessment process[2]” and that any interpreter employed to work for criminal justice will “be required to have completed this assessment process successfully”. Nevertheless such a system will take years to establish and to become as watertight as that of the NRPSI.

The Ministry of Justice has been criticised for not consulting with interpreting and translation experts throughout the procurement process. And, furthermore, it has been commented that the projected savings under the Framework Agreement are unsubstantiated.   It seems that many linguists on the RPSI will be pushed out of the profession, and those that persevere will have to restart their already established assessment. In the meantime, will we see an increase in cases of injustice both to non-natives in the criminal justice system and the interpreters and translators who have faithfully served them thus far?

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