The Government are proposing to make changes to the provision of interpretation and translation services across the justice sector. We need to reduce waste and cut costs but we shall do so in a way that safeguards quality.
Articles 5 and 6 of the European convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms (ECHR) give the right to interpretation for those who are arrested and who face criminal court proceedings. In addition, we expect the European Union to adopt a directive in the autumn intended to ensure that the rights enshrined in the ECHR are implemented consistently across all member states.
Currently, the non-binding National Agreement on Arrangements for the Use of Interpreters, Translators and Language Service Professionals in Investigations and Proceedings within the Criminal Justice System sets out how criminal justice organisations are expected to source interpreters and translators in England and Wales. The National Agreement gives the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) as the first source for foreign language interpreters and translators and the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People Directory (now called the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD)) for British Sign Language and other language services for deaf and deafblind people. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice C and H also require that whenever possible the police should use interpreters from these registers when interviewing suspects.
Members of staff in justice organisations identify interpreters using the registers and then contact them directly. Once the assignment is complete, invoices are processed individually. This is an inefficient, labour-intensive process.
The Ministry of Justice is engaging with the market to explore how interpretation and translation can be delivered more efficiently. The exercise is a “competitive dialogue”, which allows us to explore with potential providers the best way for them to meet our requirements. Although we are not able to be certain what the result of this exercise will be, we are anticipating a “framework agreement” with a number of preferred suppliers. This will set out a template or “call-off” contract. Justice organisations will then easily be able to use the “call-off” contract to meet their specific requirements. The quality of interpretation will be ensured through the terms of the contracts.
At this stage, we expect most police forces, Her Majesty’s Courts Service, the Tribunal Service, the National Offender Management Service and the Crown Prosecution Service to use the framework. We expect the framework agreement to be signed in early 2011.
A move to contracts will eventually render the National Agreement redundant and we expect to withdraw it in due course. We aim however to retain elements of the agreement as good practice guidance and many of its fundamental principles will form the basis of the agreements with suppliers.
Potential suppliers were invited to lodge an expression of interest in a letter issued on 10 August. A notice was issued in the Official Journal of the European Union on 23 August. The procurement “pre-qualification questionnaire” was made available on 24 August. The deadline for return of the questionnaire was 13 September. The competitive dialogue process with short-listed tenderers will start in October.
The Government are clear that there is scope for greater efficiency in this area of their business and it is important that savings are made. But in taking this work forward it will ensure that the quality of interpretation and translation in police stations, in the courts and elsewhere is maintained.