Legal Interpreters: Cost before Quality?

Published 15th March 2012
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Legal Interpreters: Cost before Quality?

Over the past few days, there has been heavy controversy surrounding the shift in the way that legal interpreters and court translation services are provided by the Ministry of Justice. The recent privatisation of translation and interpreting services was introduced last month. A £60M contract was signed between the Ministry of Justice and UK-based translation agency Applied Language Solutions.

Up until last month, the courts would generally have had their own pool of trusted legal interpreters employed by the public sector. These interpreters would be called upon when needed for a trial or hearing. Under the new contract however, all services will be provided by Applied Language Solutions and their own pool of interpreters. This transition has not been as smooth as both parties might have hoped. After a somewhat shaky start courts are being allowed to revert to the old system. The MoJ and ALS are now trying their best to work out the kinks.

Advocates for the switch-over are arguing that the savings being made with this contract will benefit the taxpayer. Though it cannot be denied that they are also being made at the expense of the interpreter. What’s more, judges and lawyers are complaining of under-qualified interpreters turning up to a number of court cases. Arguably worse than that; interpreters are often not turning up at all. Saving the tax payer money… apparently.


Should we be surprised? Interpreter payment rates are being slashed by up to half in some cases. Factors such as their travel expenses are being drastically cut down to reduce public sector costs. This is what has led to many interpreters refusing to work under such conditions. This in turn has led to a smaller pool of interpreters accepting the new terms. This can only mean one thing… a lower grade of quality, and so the downward spiral continues…

With regards to travel expenses, interpreters are generally paid for travel time along with a price per mile for travel expenses. Under the new contract however, payment for travel time (if less than 2 hours) has been severed completely. Payment for travel expenses has been cut to 20p per mile. That is, providing that the interpreter travels more than 10 miles. Got to love those loop-holes! Otherwise, the interpreter gets nothing for that either.

At Lingua Translations, we are committed to providing fair rates for our legal interpreters. We understand the necessity for providing top-quality linguistic talent in all sectors. Imagine putting yourself in a situation where you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and wind up in a tricky legal situation. I know I would be thankful for a fully-vetted and qualified legal interpreter representing me in court. What do you think?

As linguists ourselves, it’s a deep understanding of the translation and interpreting industry that explains why we’ll never allow ourselves to compromise on quality. More so when it comes to providing professional language services.

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