SOLICITORS have criticised a new court interpreter system after a North East translator was forced to make a 564-mile round trip for an eight-minute court hearing.
The Vietnamese interpreter had to get up at around 3am to catch a train from Newcastle to Peterborough, before changing trains to Ipswich, to be at the town’s South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court by 10am.
Following the four-and-a-half journey to Suffolk the hearing began at 10.43am and finished at 10.51am.
The problems come in the wake of a decision by the Ministry of Justice to privatise the court interpreter system at the end of January.
Some translators are believed to have refused to work for the private company as they claim it has slashed their fees.
Last night solicitors branded the situation as a “farce”.
They claimed their clients have been left in jail when interpreters fail to turn up for potential bail hearings because of the distance they had to travel.
Lawyers said they and court staff have even had to resort to using the internet web service Google Translate to be able to communicate with their clients.
In some cases it has been claimed friends of the defendants have had to stand up in court to help explain what is going on to the defendant.
The Newcastle interpreter had travelled from the region to assist defendant Phuong Van Duong, who is accused of the production of cannabis.
His solicitor, Neil Saunders, said he had not been able to understand what was happening in court on four previous occasions as no translator had turned up.
Mr Saunders said: “Farcical is not the right word. It’s actually a tragedy.
“Whilst justice must be blind, it should not be mute. People are not being represented.”
The government awarded the interpreter contract to private company Applied Language Solutions, which took over on January 30.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) admitted there had been problems with the system, but claimed the situation has improved recently.
A spokeswoman said: “There were an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.
“They have put measures in place to resolve these issues and we have already seen a marked improvement.
“The vast majority of appointments are now being met, but we are continuing to push for performance to be brought to the required level and are monitoring the system on a daily basis.
“The interpretation and translation framework with Applied Languages Solutions was agreed last year following consultation and introduced in courts, tribunals and prisons across England and Wales on January 30, following a successful pilot in the North West region.”
A spokeswoman for Applied Language Solutions, who are based in Oldham, said: “The MOJ awarded the contract to fundamentally address the weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs of the previous service.
“Inevitably there will be a period of transition as embedded, but inefficient, working practices are changed with the aim of achieving higher quality and more cost effective services.
“The contract began less than two months ago, we are fulfilling the vast majority of bookings, nearly 3,000 a week, and have 2,000 experienced and qualified linguists actively working within the system. More interpreters are signing up daily.”