Fresh criticisms of the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) courtroom interpreting and translation contract with Capita have been levied this weekend.

Barrister and chair of the Criminal Bar Association Michael Turner QC told the Sunday Express yesterday (March 10th) that any claims the contract was saving the state money were a “con”. He also warned that the service was “wrecking” the UK’s criminal justice system.

It has emerged that some of the interpreters are being booked by a call centre in Krakow, Poland, which Capita Translating and Interpreting has outsourced the work to. This is the latest controversy to blight the MOJ contract, which many UK interpreters are refusing to work under because of the lower level of pay and recoupable expenses it introduced.

In January 2012 the MOJ rewarded a five-year contract to Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which has since been acquired by Capita, to supply all its court interpreting services in a move to save £15 million. However, Mr Turner claimed the result was an example of the government pretending to save money.

His comments come in the same week a judge labelled Capita Translating and Interpreting as “helplessly incompetent”. Judge Richard Bray revealed he had been unable to sentence a Vietnamese drug lord following a trial at Northampton Crown Court as no interpreter turned up. As a result, he was unable to expedite deportation proceedings against the convict.

This is not the first case of Capita’s interpreters failing to show up for court cases. A Justice Select Committee report released in February revealed trials have had to be cancelled when no interpreter has arrived, while on some occasions the barrister has had to act as an interpreter.

According to Professional Interpreters for Justice, 81 per cent of qualified interpreters in the UK will not work for Capita. This shortage means the company has been forced to lower its standards when accepting the interpreters who do apply on to its register.

A September 2012 report by the National Audit Office did not include the outsourcing deal with the Krakow call centre. The Sunday Express informed Commons committee chairman Sir Alan Beith of the link last Friday. The newspaper notes that employees at the call centre are sent redirected requests for courtroom linguists, who they then select from Capita’s register and offer the job to.

Mr Turner warned: “[This contract] is wrecking the system and screw-ups are now endemic. It is a con on the taxpayer and a con on the victims of crime.” He added that when Capita’s interpreters do turn up in court, they often can’t speak English or do not speak the language that is required.

“Capita, in order to make their profits, screw wages to the floor, the good translators refuse to work for that, so they produce translators that cannot translate and cannot speak English and then because they have not got enough translators on their books they have to outsource, so they spend millions more on outsourcing. So the savings are a complete illusion,” Mr Turner continued. In addition to holding up the course of justice, interpreters not turning up for trials costs the court system money. Mr Turner said that as running a courtroom costs £1.10 per minute, when a linguist does not arrive – even for an hour – the overheads are “huge”.

Responding to the comments, a spokesperson for Capita Translation and Interpreting said the Krakow office was helping it to locate interpreters, but that it did not have direct contact with courtroom staff. She added that all the interpreters it employs are qualified to at least the minimum standards Capita requires.

However, Mr Turner concluded: “If you want proper interpreting services these are professional people and you have to pay them properly. It is as simple as that.”

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