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President calls adjournment because of absence of interpreter ‘unacceptable’

Lack of Slovak interpreters a ‘concerning state of affairs’

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called the adjournment of children proceedings because of the absence of a Slovak interpreter an unacceptable state of affairs.

In Re J and S (Children) [2014] EWFC 4, the President was considering an application by a father and a mother for leave pursuant to section 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to oppose the making of adoption orders in relation to two of their children, J and S, boys born respectively in 2010 and 2012. The parents are Roma from the Slovak Republic. The parents also applied for the transfer of the proceedings to the Slovak Republic in accordance with Article 15 of the Regulation commonly known as Brussels II revised (BIIR).

HHJ Murdoch QC transferred the prospective adopters' adoption applications to the High Court and directed that they be listed before the President and directed that "HMCTS do provide 2 Slovak interpreters for the hearing on 7 May 2014."

That hearing was unable to proceed because no interpreter was present at court.

The President said:

"It would have been unjust, indeed inhumane, to continue with the final hearing of applications as significant as those before me – this, after all, was their final opportunity to prevent the adoption of their children – if the parents were unable to understand what was being said."

The hearing was adjourned to 15 May 2014. The President directed that HMCTS was to provide two interpreters for that hearing and that Capita's Relationship Director file a written statement (with statement of truth) explaining the circumstances in which and the reasons why no interpreters had been provided by Capita for the hearing on 7 May 2014.

The President referred to three aspects of the statement by Capita's Relationship Director:

"The contractual arrangements between Capita and the interpreters do not give Capita the ability to require that any particular interpreter accepts any particular assignment, or even to honour any engagement which the interpreter has accepted. ... The second is that it is only at 2pm on the day before the hearing that Capita notifies the court that there is no interpreter assigned. The third is the revelation that on 7 May 2014 Capita had only 29 suitably qualified Slovak language interpreters on its books (only 13 within a 100 miles radius of the Royal Courts of Justice) whereas it was requested to provide 39 such interpreters for court hearings that day."

The President continued:

"This is on any view a concerning state of affairs. If the consequence is that a hearing such as that before me on 7 May 2014 has to be abandoned then that is an unacceptable state of affairs. It might be thought that something needs to be done.

"Whether the underlying causes are to be found in the nature of the contract between the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS or whoever and Capita, or in the nature of the contract between Capita and the interpreters it retains, or in the sums paid respectively to Capita and its interpreters, or in an inadequate supply of interpreters (unlikely one might have thought in a language such as Slovak), I do not know. We need to find out."

The judgment and a summary by Sally Gore of Fenners Chambers, dealing with the substantive issues, are here.

1/6/14