A POWERFUL committee of MPs has branded a Government department as “shambolic” after the Daily Echo revealed a murder trial had to be temporarily halted because an unqualified man stood in for his interpreter wife.
The judge suspended the Winchester Crown Court case when it became clear that Mubarak Lone was failing to translate key phrases fully and even got the oath wrong for a Sikh witness.
The Ministry of Justice was yesterday criticised over its handling of a contract for court language services, with MPs saying it had ignored warnings the quality of services would be sacrificed when it outsourced the work.
Committee chair, Sir Alan Beith said: “The Ministry of Justice’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic.”
The contract with Applied Language Solutions (ALS), now known as Capita Translation and Interpreting after it was taken over, led to court proceedings being held up and even cases collapsing after it launched early last year.
Justice Minister Helen Grant said while there had been “significant” issues at the start of the contract, the department had seen dramatic improvements after taking “swift and robust action”.
A lack of registered interpreters, resulting in poor quality of services and a struggle to meet demand, was among the problems faced by courts, the committee said.
During the 2012 trial of Rajvinder Kaur, who was accused of battering her mother-in-law to death with a rolling pin at her home in Broadlands Road, Southampton, unqualified Mr Lone had turned up to stand in as an interpreter for his wife, who was busy.
He arrived 45 minutes late, and a junior defence barrister who happened to speak Punjabi then realised he was failing to translate important phrases in full for mother- of-two Kaur’s husband, Iqbal Singh.
An investigation later revealed Mr Lone was not qualified or registered.
Kaur, 37 at the time of the trial, was later jailed for life after being found guilty of murder.
In another case, the committee heard an interpreter mistranslated a defendant’s statement, which ultimately gave the jury the impression that their evidence was not credible, but no action was taken.
Sir Alan said: “(The Ministry of Justice) did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts.”
Justice Minister Ms Grant said: “The vast majority of interpreter bookings are now being completed and complaints have fallen considerably.
“The changes we have made have led to major savings for taxpayers, totalling £15 million in the first year, and we continue to monitor the contract on a daily basis and demand continuing progress.”