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Bonus TGIF: Applied Language Solutions/Ministry of Justice Framework Agreement March 2, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Fun stuff, TGIF.

Court interpreters in the UK are protesting the signing of a private contract between Applied Language Solutions and the Ministry of Justice, which has seen their rates almost halved. According to an article in the Guardian, “As many as 1,000 interpreters are boycotting a privatised contract to supply linguistic services to all English and Welsh courts, resulting in postponed hearings, suspects being released and compensation claims.” According to Syed Amjad Ali, who organized the Manchester demonstration, “Interpreters were getting £30 an hour before, for a minimum of three hours, now they offering them £16-£22, no travel for the first hour and petrol of 20p per mile.” Apparently about 60% of the 2,300 people on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters are refusing to work for ALS under the conditions in the contract, and the court is starting to panic because cases are being postponed and even dismissed because they can’t find an interpreter. One of the biggest complaints is that qualified interpreters aren’t willing to work for those rates, so the quality of the interpreters who are being sent to jobs has understandably dropped.

The rates for interpreting in court in Germany (and government contracts here in the States) have always been lower than the standard market rate, so I can’t imagine what the UK interpreters are dealing with. Based on the chatter on my listservs and online, Applied Language Solutions signed an agreement to provide translation services to the court and for the 2012 Olympics. I imagine that will be hard to do if they can’t find anyone to provide those services for them. In the past the Olympics has relied on volunteer interpreters with no training. I happen to know someone who worked in Atlanta back in 1996. She did it as a lark because she knew a little Spanish. I knew her from back in high school. She has never worked in the T&I industry and is a Tastefully Simple salesperson. Anyway, I’m digressing…

Back to the matter at hand. As Chris Durban so aptly explained, “very worrying logistics & quality issues now have led the MoJ to authorize courts to look for alternate solutions — an indication that maybe, just maybe, some intermediaries’ race to the bottom rates-wise may have reached a limit.” It’s kind of hard for an agency that doesn’t actually do the work to provide bottom-rate translation services if the service providers choose not to work for them. Keep your chins up, fellow UK interpreters! We’re all behind you.


Apparently the CEO behind ALS is a 35 year old whose ambition is to become “the biggest language provider in the world”. Yeah, good luck with that. According to Chris, “The chairman of ALS tipped his hand (slightly) in a “fund my business venture” TV show called Dragons Den a few years back here:”


1. Karl Hansen - March 2, 2012

Guess the British courts never heard of the Law of Supply & Demand. 😉

2. Terena Bell, @ineverylanguage - March 2, 2012

Any idea what made the Olympics decide to book “professionals” this time?

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 2, 2012

I’ll hazard a guess… crappy work from volunteers who learned the language in school but never visited the country or at most spent a month abroad?

3. Judy Jenner (@language_news) - March 2, 2012

We love it! You beat us to posting this. Quite the controversy in Europe, and we love it that the court interpreters are fighting back. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening here in Nevada. We (certified Spanish court interpreters) were just presented with a new contract, which includes a 28% reduction in pay. Naturally, I did not sign it, but unfortunately, I am one of only two interpreters that I know of who did not sign it. We would love to get some unity here in Nevada so we can get something accomplished, too. Go UK court interpreters — we can use them as inspiration!

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 2, 2012

Feel free to blog about this topic too, Judy. It’s an important one and we need to get the word out about how important interpreting is in the courts.

4. Nicole - March 2, 2012

I read this excellent article from the BBC the other week, some rather horrifying quotes in there.
I can only say this must inevitable backfire on ALS – after all, the courts are already stacked out and aren’t going to carry on like this for long before looking elsewhere for the quality services they need.

‘Court Chaos Follows Interpreter Changes’ 13th Feb 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17009115

5. Suzanne Owen - March 2, 2012

Amazing that yet another agency thinks it can build and sustain a viable business by hiring language professionals on the cheap — but I am absolutely thrilled to see that at least the interpreters are fighting back and taking a stand. They deserve our support.

6. Annelise - March 3, 2012

When you open your borders to any Tom, Dick or Harry from Eastern Europe and beyond, you’re going to need a lot of interpreters when the bad apples among them start murdering people and stealing things. This problem wouldn’t have existed ten years ago, but thanks to the EU, we have to deal with this mess, and nobody comes out of it happy.

7. Craig Morris - March 4, 2012

That video shows how silly big agencies are. They are just talking about skimming profits off the top of work that real people do without discussing any value that they add (at least, not in this video).

What is he going to do with this money? Market his business? There is no product to sell that is not already out there.

8. David Salter - March 7, 2012

I run an agency (we don’t do any interpreting) and have been astonished at the lack of care from UK clients regarding their translation work. Having started this business in Australia, clients over there were genuinely concerned about who was doing their work and what value we could add to the translation (I am a lawyer by background, as are most of my colleagues, and we work closely with the translators regarding legal terminology and style – the same goes for work in the finance and insurance sectors).
Over here in the UK, the standard request from prospective clients seems to be “Hmmm, that sounds like a great idea and you clearly know what you’re doing with this reinsurance contract but can you translate it as cheaply as X Ltd?”. The answer is always a polite, but firm, “no”.
Frankly, there is no way for us to compete with the pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap providers and we certainly don’t want to but my view is that UK clients need to understand the value of translation work and the importance of getting it done properly, using the right people who have the right knowledge of the relevant subject matter. Perhaps the collapse of the ALS contract will be at least a small indication that the “rock bottom” approach, noted above, just doesn’t work.

9. Leyla - March 7, 2012

I am, or maybe now I should say was, a court interpreter in the UK. The current shambolic situation is a direct result of the UK government’s desperation and desire to outsource as many public services as posssible. What counts is the bottom line and for the Ministry of Justice, paying for properly qualified linguists experienced in English law proved to be an intolerable cost in their eyes. I am proud of my colleagues for boycotting this contract, the negative press is rapidly building into a damning pile of evidence and I await the day when, after one too many judge has complained vociferously and publicly, the Ministry of Justice will cancel this worthless and costly mistake.

10. Diana Coada - March 13, 2012


First of all, it’s very unsettling to see this kind of comments from a peer translator/interpreter. Maybe you should think long and hard about the history of the ”great British empire”. And second of all, please think about the ”exemplary” behaviour of many Brit expats out there. I think Britain is an example of multiculturalism to many countries out there and I’m proud of it.

Getting back to the original topic, go interpreters go, ALS has already failed!

11. Diana Stegureanu - March 23, 2012

Dear Annelisse,
There were quite a few cases with British paedophiles in Romania and they had a fair trial and INTERPRETERS accredited by the Ministry of Justice who paid from the public purse. I can assure you that money could have been put to a better use… feeding the orphans for example but you know what? the public opinion didn’t complain because we wanted to see them behind bars…. Mind you own rotten apples!!!

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 23, 2012

Diana, she never responded to your initial comment over a week ago. Please let it go or I will close comments on this thread. This has nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is appalling pay for court interpreters in the UK.

12. Fred Smith - May 20, 2012

There are alternatives, you do not need to work for ALS. There are actually serious agencies around, agencies where the management isn’t waiting for the 60 mil GBP payout from the investment company that bought them. Agencies where quality takes fist seat!

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