Skip to main content

Courts (Applied Language Solutions)

Volume 550: debated on Tuesday 18 September 2012

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the language services for courts provided by Applied Language Solutions. (121183)

The hon. Lady may be aware of problems that occurred when the contract started in January, but the National Audit Office’s recent report, published on 12 September, showed that ALS was filling 95% of its bookings and complaints had fallen. The Department continues to monitor the performance of ALS against the key performance indicators. We published a statistical report in May and plan to publish an updated report later in the year.

I thank the Minister for her response and welcome her to her post. She brings a unique expertise to the team. May I also pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)? He was a good Lord Chancellor.

The Minister will be aware that there is a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to provide interpreters, and a judge last month said ALS was dreadful—a plague on the courts and incompetent. What steps will the Minister take to ensure there is no waste of public money in delayed and adjourned cases?

The Ministry of Justice acted quickly to put a plan in place when it became obvious that there were performance problems. We are not being complacent and we will continue to monitor performance, but we are seeing some substantial improvements. The framework with ALS is intended to provide better value for money. It also provides an opportunity to reduce a great deal of the administrative burdens that were placed on the justice agencies under the old system. The contract is also expected to save the Ministry of Justice in the region of £15 million a year.

The Minister must be irritated to be spending her first few days in office reading NAO reports detailing her predecessor’s cock-ups. Does she agree with the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee that the NAO inquiry into the language service contract has uncovered some shocking failings which have had a dreadful impact on clients of the Court Service and people who work in the interpretation service? If she does, will she now suspend the contract with Applied Language Solutions, or is she happy to see interpreters with no experience, qualifications or criminal records checks being used in serious and sensitive criminal cases?

Yes we are, and the Opposition also need to accept that the NAO report accepted that the Government had good reasons for making changes from the old system.