The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been criticised for its decision to outsource nationwide courtroom interpreting to one company.

In January 2012, the MoJ handed a five-year contract to supply its courtroom interpreting services to Applied Language Solutions, which has since been acquired by Capita. However, a new report by the Justice Select Committee has slammed the service offering since then, revealing some trials have been cancelled as a result of the interpreter never turning up. On other occasions, evidence heard in the courtroom was incorrectly translated – which could put the entire trial in jeopardy – while defendants also suffered, with one being remanded into custody as a result of the lack of interpreter.

Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith said: “The Ministry of Justice’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic.” He accused the MoJ of failing to pay attention to the warnings and concerns raised by professionals in the industry. Another identified error was ALS/Capita’s failure to introduce safeguards that would ensure the interpreters hired were suitably experienced and qualified for the job, along with its lack of capacity to introduce vetting procedures.

Concerns were raised about the decision to outsource before the contract was even granted. The decision to widen the net of interpreters who could work on trials by introducing a lower level of pay was one of the initiatives that attracted the most criticism when MoJ was in the consultation stage of outsourcing the contract. Professionals warned that their peers would be unable to work for the lower salary and that by employing under-qualified linguists there was a risk justice would be put at risk.

While the decision of many interpreters to boycott these jobs caused some difficulties in ALS fulfilling its contract with the MoJ, the report noted that it was not completely responsible. Instead, the Justice Select Committee found that ALS did not have the necessary resources to deliver on its promises.

The aim of outsourcing the services had been to save the MoJ money and the department originally projected savings of £15 million. Helen Grant, the Justice Minister, said: “The changes we have made have led to major savings for taxpayers, totalling £15m in the first year, and we continue to monitor the contract on a daily basis and demand continuing progress.” However, the committee revealed it now looks as though the original agreement does not make sense financially and that the savings are being secured at the expense of Capita.

Finally, HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s decision to instruct its employees not to participate in the online consultation into the matter was also slammed. The committee pointed out that the consultation was designed to collect the views and experiences of frontline workers in the justice industry and that it was wrong some of these were excluded.

The report concluded that services are now improving, but at the expense of Capita’s finances. Ms Grant responded to the findings, saying: “The vast majority of interpreter bookings are now being completed and complaints have fallen considerably.” Time will tell if these improvements continue.