As the old adage goes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Yesterday the Justice Select Committee (JC) held its first evidence session into the £300m court interpreting contract awarded to private translation firm Applied Language Solutions (ALS) by the Ministry of Justice (you can watch the evidence session here).
It's fair to say the contract, which came into play on February 1 this year, has been an unmitigated disaster (I co-authored a piece for The Guardian in March this year, one month after the new contract came into affect). Morale in the court interpreting community is dangerously low, with many highly-qualified and experienced interpreters drifting away from the profession in protest at slashed pay rates and what they see as a dangerous decline in the standard of court interpreting.
Back in March I also interviewed Mirela Watson, a Romanian translator with 15 years experience of court interpreting, who told me she was "extremely unhappy" with the new arrangements and that the standard of interpreting in some cases was so bad that a major miscarriage of justice was only a matter of time.
Rebranded as Capita Translation and Interpreting earlier this month, ALS's catalogue of errors is far too long to list exhaustively, but has included no-shows, providing interpreters with no court experience, and non-existent criminal background checks, with one man managing to register his cat as a qualified interpreter. While Capita insisted these were the inevitable "teething problems" encountered at the start of a new contract, the firm is still filling only 95% of bookings more than six months after the contract began.
The fact that bookings have levelled out at 95% - the MOJ's contract with Capita actually specifies they will meet 98% of bookings - is interesting in itself. Madeleine Lee, director of the Professional Interpreters' Alliance, suggested at the JC evidence session that, in cases that involve a long journey due to the lack of an available local translator, Capita bosses may be actively choosing to save money by paying the penalty fee for missing a session rather than stumping up for large rail fares.
The Ministry of Justice awarded the contract to ALS to address the weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs of the previous service.