Northampton judge brands interpreting service “hopelessly incompetent”

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A top judge has labelled the company which provides interpreters to Northampton Crown Court, as “hopelessly incompetent”.

Judge Richard Bray was speaking at a hearing for Thanh Van Ha, a 20-year-old from Vietnam, who has admitted producing cannabis at an address in Falcutt Way, Kingsthorpe, Northampton.

No interpreter had been booked for the hearing, despite one being requested on January 13, the court was told.

Judge Bray described the situation as a “farce”, adjourning the case due to the fact that Van Ha could not understand any of the proceedings.

The judge asked for a representative from translation company, Capita Tl, to be summoned to the court to give an explanation.

He said: “They are hopelessly incompetent. They are holding up court business day after day after day.

“This is an absurd waste of time. It is an absolute farce. It costs £850 a day to keep this defendant in prison.”

The Ministry of Justice controversially privatised court interpreting in August 2011, awarding a five-year contract to Applied Language Services. The company was later sold by founder, Gavin Wheeldon, to Capita TI.

The contract has been fraught with problems, including accusations of cutting mileage rates for interpreters, and recruiting unqualified staff when some qualified interpreters refused to sign up with the firm.

Locally, there have been several instances in Northampton Crown Court when interpreters have not being provided when requested.

At one such case last month, barrister Dhaneshwar Sharma interpreted for two Romanian defendants in the absence of an interpreter.

Mirela Watson, an Essex-based Romanian interpreter, said other issues nationally have included a trial collapsing because an under-qualified interpreter failed to interpret properly, and another where a crown court judge recognised an interpreter as a convicted prostitute.

She also claimed Capita had taken interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) database without their permission.

She said: “The Ministry of Justice decided, without consulting any organisation of interpreters, to outsource to ALS.

“We have been monitoring the situation and boycotting Capita. The pay is appalling. They are not paying travel time or expenses - sometimes you are lucky if you are in net [profit].

“Capita said they could cover the whole of the UK. There is a national database of 2,500 interpreters, and they started off with only 300.”

A spokesman for Capita Group said: “Capita acknowledges there have been challenges regarding the delivery of this contract and the business is investing in improving its performance.

“Capita is committed to fully supporting the requirements of the Ministry of Justice, police and court service and providing opportunities for interpreters.