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Family courts are not immune from problems with interpreter services, according to PIA

Courts are permitted to hire non-ALS interpreters

Problems with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), the interpreter service appointed by the Ministry of Justice to provide interpreters to all courts across England and Wales, have begun to impact upon family proceedings, it is understood.

The new system for providing interpreters was intended to enable more efficient allocation of interpreting assignments across several agencies, including Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service. For example, it was said at the launch of the new arrangements that a single interpreter would be able to complete consecutive assignments for different agencies in the same general location where previously two, or more, interpreters would have been booked.

However, according to The Guardian, the scheme was partially abandoned within two weeks of being launched. Instead the Ministry of Justice circulated instructions to courts and tribunals allowing them to hire interpreters from other sources in 'urgent' cases because hearings were being cancelled when ALS translators failed to appear.

Family Law Week understands that family proceedings have not been immune from the problems. In one example, highlighted by the Professional Interpreters' Alliance, a family case at which seven family law professionals were in attendance was delayed because of confusion as to the allocation of an interpreter by ALS. The interpreter was needed to translate the testimony of a Lithuanian party. According to the PIA member present at the hearing, when an ALS interpreter did eventually arrive, 'she was not accurate. She tried to summarize and in most cases just interpreted the beginning of a sentence and then kept silent. She substituted those words and phrases with which she was unfamiliar with other words or phrases, not reflecting the content of information she had to convey.'

The Professional Interpreters' Alliance, which represents public service interpreters, says that 60% of the 2,300 interpreters on the national register have refused to work for ALS because of disputes over pay policy and the standard of qualifications required. Now that courts have resorted to the old arrangements as a temporary solution they are finding that Registered Public Service Interpreters are unwilling to plug the gaps for ALS.