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Statement from PAC Chair on NAO report: The Ministry of Justice's language services contract

12 September 2012

A Statement from the Rt Hon Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of Committee of Public Accounts

It is appalling that the Ministry awarded ALS a £90 million contract to provide a service essential to ensuring the proper administration of justice that was clearly beyond this company’s ability to deliver. The Ministry overlooked its own due diligence process which showed ALS was simply too small to shoulder a contract of this value. The Ministry also took no account of the resolve of many experienced interpreters not to work for this company. Against a target of 98 per cent, ALS supplied an interpreter in only 58 per cent of hearings in February 2012.

This unacceptably poor performance led to courtroom chaos. It forced court staff to interrupt their core duties to find interpreters at short notice and triggered a steep rise in the number of abandoned trials. Where interpreters were supplied, their quality was at times inexcusably bad. This resulted in poorly translated charges to defendants and incorrect evidence to juries. ALS could not even guarantee that interpreters had undergone mandatory Criminal Records Checks. My concern is that the resulting delays and hearing cancellations caused distress for victims, defendants and witnesses, additional costs to the taxpayer and damage to the reputation of the justice system.

The Ministry must take immediate steps to strengthen its approach to conducting due diligence for complex contracts. ALS performance needs to improve and, importantly, the Ministry must ensure that Capita –who purchased ALS in late 2011–completes checks on all interpreters working on the contract without any further delay.

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