Lets kick this off with news from the Daily Mail as to how the MoJ is doing on the court interpreter contract:-
Court translator costs double in a year: Taxpayers' bill now more than £15million after service was outsourced in move branded as 'shambolic' by MPs
The cost to the taxpayer of hiring court interpreters has almost doubled to £15.5million in just one year, according to official figures. The bill for translators brought in to assist non-English speakers appearing at magistrates or Crown courts for criminal cases soared from £7.9million in 2012.
The figures, uncovered in Freedom of Information responses from the Ministry of Justice, appear to show the rise occurred since services were outsourced to under-fire firm Capita Translation and Interpreting. They were revealed after the handling of court foreign language services to just one company was branded ‘shambolic’ by MPs amid concerns the change had caused trials to collapse or be delayed.
Farcical episodes that have emerged since privatisation include the case of a man who was charged with perverting the course of justice was instead accused of being a ‘pervert’. In a burglary case at Snaresbrook Crown Court in east London, a retrial was ordered when it emerged that the Romanian interpreter had muddled the words ‘beaten’ and ‘bitten’. And in Winchester, a murder trial was brought to a halt when the court interpreter confessed he was an unqualified stand-in for his wife, who was busy. Standards were allegedly so lax that a director of another translation company was able to sign up his cat Masha as a translator – who was then offered jobs.
MPs on the Commons’ Justice Select Committee were told that a ‘catastrophic’ shortage of interpreters had forced courts to rely on Google Translate, a comparatively crude and time-consuming online translation service. There are around 11,000 foreign nationals in UK prisons, around 13 per cent of the total prison population, with many needing interpreters at numerous court hearings and appeals.
Courts across England used to rely on local interpreters but in January 2012 the former Ministry of Justice controversially handed a monopoly on translating to a private firm, Applied Language Solutions, in an attempt to cut costs. The company was then bought by Capita TI amid a wave of criticism from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), which previously provided courts with language experts.
In the first 18 months of the contract there were 10,000 complaints about the interpreting services it provided. MPs were told the company had failed to send interpreters to a fifth of trials, sent people speaking the wrong language, or translators who are simply incompetent.
In July last year Lady Butler-Sloss, a retired judge, told the House of Lords there was a massive ‘disruption and delay to criminal trials as a result of serious inaccuracies of court interpreting’. Five months earlier, the Justice Committee said the privatisation had been ‘shambolic’ and led to cases collapsing and people unnecessarily being remanded in custody.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice confirmed it paid out £15.5million for ‘interpreting and translation services’ to the courts last year compared to £7.9million in 2012. But he said the FOI response had only identified payments to Capita TI. Because of blunders after the start of the contract, local interpreters were hired on an ad-hoc basis to fill in shortfalls and paid for their services.
The MoJ said the total payments to all interpreters in 2012 exceeded the bill for 2013, although the department said it could not provide documented figures to prove this. It stated, however, that the new system had seen ‘dramatic improvements’ and that ‘record numbers of booking are now begin made and fulfilled’. A MoJ source said: ‘During the first year of the contract a lot of things weren’t running brilliantly but since then the whole system has been sorted out.’
Despite cockups, privatisation carries on unabated as the MoJ announces new contracts for prison support services:-
Preferred bidders of prison services competition announced
The Ministry of Justice has today (18 November 2014) revealed the preferred bidders for the management of a range of works, maintenance and facilities management services across public sector prisons.
Amey and Carillion have been named as the desired providers following a competition process to provide:
to public sector prisons across England and Wales.
- works and building projects
- management of prison stores
- waste disposal and collection
- energy and environmental management
- escorting of contractors and their vehicles
Each company was selected as a preferred bidder for 2 separate geographical areas following a competition process that is set to save taxpayers around £115 million over a 5 year period.
The preferred bidders are:
- Lot 1 – Amey – North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside
- Lot 2 – Amey - East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales
- Lot 3 – Carillion - East of England, London
- Lot 4 – Carillion - South West, South Central, Kent and Sussex
The competition was announced in June 2013 and formally launched in January 2014, as part of the government’s programme of work to drive down costs and improve outcomes across the prison estate without compromising public safety. The new providers are expected to start delivering services on 1 June 2015 following a period of mobilisation.Whilst on the subject of contracts, it's worth reminding charities currently bidding for probation work that as much as the MoJ may giveth, they also take away. Victim Support have just discovered this harsh truth, having lost the court witness contract to the CAB, as reported here:-
£24 million grant to support witnesses at court
Citizens Advice has secured £24 million of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) funding to provide the court-based Witness Service, which offers practical and emotional support to ensure people give their best possible evidence during criminal trials.
The money will be used to improve face to face support at more than 300 courts across England and Wales. This includes greeting witnesses, explaining court procedures, giving updates on the progress of the case, and providing emotional and practical support connected to giving evidence.
It will ensure better support for young, vulnerable and intimidated witnesses - including home visits before a trial and at remote video link locations - and consistency of support across the courts while providing value for the taxpayer. It will also inform witnesses of local victims’ services to make sure they are supported throughout the court process and into the future.
This is the first time government funding for the court-based Witness Service has been open to competition. This reflects the government’s commitment in its response to the ‘Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses’ consultation that the service would be nationally and competitively commissioned.
Citizens Advice will take over the service from Victim Support, which provided help for almost 200,000 witnesses in 2013/14, on 1 April 2015.While he was in Australia, David Cameron made a big thing about pushing more work in the direction of the tagging companies, as reported here in the Guardian:-
Tories plan sobriety bracelet punishment for alcohol-related crimes
People who are convicted of criminal damage or common assault committed under the influence of alcohol could be forced to wear a “sobriety bracelet” for four months, as an alternative to going to prison. David Cameron has announced that the Conservatives will give judges the power to use alcohol abstinence orders if the party is returned to government next year.
Instead of going to prison, offenders will then be forced to wear an electronic tag, which tests sweat for alcohol, for up to 120 days. The tag is fitted around the ankle and automatically samples the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes. Information is transmitted to a base station, where the data is downloaded and checked by officials. Offenders who fail to keep off alcohol could be hit with a fine or, ultimately, a custodial sentence.
US courts already use the bracelets. The actor Lindsay Lohan was famously ordered to wear one after missing a probation hearing following a conviction for drink-driving. The abstinence orders are already being trialled in London, Cheshire and Northamptonshire after being proposed by Cameron in 2012, but the Tories will pledge in their election manifesto to use them across England and Wales. The first one was handed out at Sutton magistrates court in August to an offender convicted of using abusive language and provoking unlawful violence.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Australia, the prime minister said: “Alcohol-related crime causes misery for millions of people every year and costs our country billions of pounds. While overall crime has fallen under this government, we need to do more.”
Conservative sources said the Home Office envisaged up to 5,000 offenders a year would be ordered to wear the tags, at a cost to the taxpayer of £15m. They say that abstinence orders in America have reduced reoffending in some states by up to 14%. American courts have ordered the devices to be fitted to thousands of defendants released on bail and awaiting trial for alcohol-related offences, as well as people on probation and underage drinkers.
Judges in the UK would have the discretion to hand down orders for offences such as threatening behaviour, assault, criminal damage and drink-driving. Most offenders will be made to wear the bracelets for 60 to 90 days, with a maximum punishment of 120 days.
The police, led by the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, have been pushing for the use of sobriety bracelets, saying it would help cut crime in the capital. The police commissioner said 80%-90% of night-time arrests by the Met were associated with excessive alcohol. “It is important for us to use technology and to use these preventative measures around two areas – one around alcohol and certainly around drugs because the two most aggravating factors around crime tend to be those areas,” Hogan-Howe said in December 2011.According to a recent blog by Ian Lawrence, Napo's Professional Committee have been looking into the whole subject of Electronic Monitoring:-
Electronic Monitoring - Value for Money?
Our old friend Professor Mike Nellis copied Napo in to his recent correspondence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about EM and our Professional Committee has asked me to endorse the case that he makes for the PAC to seriously scrutinise the contract.
We have said that in our view, Professor Nellis’ description of the development of these contracts and his analysis of how they came to be signed is less than transparent (does that ring a bell?) and the statement in this year’s Major Projects Authority (MPA) report that the project would “support the development of a co-operative and constructive partnership approach to delivery through the engagement of key stakeholders across the criminal justice sector both in the project and following implementation of the contract(s).” has not been sustained in reality.
We have reminded the PAC of the previous contracts for EM, which have attracted so much attention from the Serious Fraud Office, amongst others. These were valued at somewhere in the region of £100-120million p.a. Mike says that this has been equivalent to more than 10% of the overall budget for Probation year on year, and is money that might have been better targeted towards funding the supervision of under-12 month prisoners on release.
As Professor Nellis has pointed out, we do not really know the value of the new contracts or their proposed scope. We have said that we would hope that these EM contracts will be cheaper than their predecessors, not least because those previous contracts were hugely overpriced. The statistics compiled by the learned Professor inform us that according to the Policy Exchange Unit report, the average ‘per day’ cost of a tag in the US was £1.25 compared to £13.14 in England and Wales at the time the report was prepared. On the other hand, the more sophisticated technology (GPS) is likely to be more expensive to operate and if numbers are greatly increased, (Ed: especially if ‘Through the Gate’ fails to deliver?) then so will the contract prices. Figures for ‘whole-life’ contract costs as given in the MPA report 2013/14 are anything from £529.2m to £912m. If these contracts are for six years, then the annual cost might be between £88m and £152m.
Napo’s Professional Committee believes that the unimaginative and indiscriminate use of EM curfews has been nothing short of scandalous. Indeed a very expensive one at that; and with little or no evidence to suggest that ‘stand-alone’ curfews (around 70% of those imposed) do anything at all to reduce re-offending rates.
Read Napo’s submission here.Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, the assertion that crime has fallen under his government comes just as it's revealed the police have been very naughty and simply not recorded an awful lot of offences in order to meet targets. Interestingly, the report is from HM Chief Inspector of Police Tom Winsor, no doubt doing Theresa May's bidding in kicking the police, again in the Guardian:-
Police fail to record 800,000 crimes a year, including one in four sex offences
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says it is an indefensible failure by the police to properly record the equivalent of 19% of the total official police recorded crime rate, and including a third of all violent crime. The investigation into the integrity of police recorded crime figures says that the 26% under-recording of rapes and other sexual offences is a matter of “especially serious concern”, with inspectors finding 37 individual cases of rape that were not recorded as crimes.
The HMIC report, published on Tuesday, says that even when crimes are correctly recorded by the police, too many are removed or cancelled as recorded crimes for no good reason, including more than 200 rapes and 250 cases of violence against the person. It says that these decisions, called “no-criming”, to incorrectly dismiss rape victims have meant that offenders who should have been pursued by the police have not been brought to justice. The inspectors add that in 22% of these no-crime cases the rape victim was never told that a decision had been taken to drop their case.
Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some forces have exemplary records in this respect, and others are very bad. It is particularly important that in cases as serious as rape, these shortcomings are put right as a matter of the greatest urgency. In some forces, action is already being taken.”
The report says that the police must record an incident as a crime when a victim reports circumstances that amount to an offence as defined by the law and there is no credible evidence to the contrary.
The rules say that a crime should still be recorded even if the victim declines to provide their personal details, or does not want to take the matter further, or even if the allegation cannot be proved. They add, however, that a crime does not need to be recorded if a victim does not confirm that a crime has taken place. For instance if someone other than the victim reports an apparent street robbery, but the police can’t find the victim, then a crime is not recorded but a record is still made of the incident.
The report rejects claims that the practice of under-recording is due to “fiddled figures” or dishonest manipulation, saying that although the staff survey and interviews with whistleblowers produced many such allegations, no one came forward with firm evidence. The inspectors say that a number of police forces accepted that “undue performance pressures had adversely affected crime recording in the past, and the culture of chasing targets as ends in themselves had distorted crime-recording decisions”.It's worth mentioning another matter touched on in the recent blog by Ian Lawrence, and that is another wheeze by Chris Grayling to raise money from our clients:-
Criminal Courts Charges
More great work in progress by our eagle eyed practitioners. Under The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2014, currently still progressing through parliament is a whole raft of changes (28 in all) to various areas of criminal justice. One of the most invidious of these is the creation of a Criminal Courts Charge – meaning that people if convicted, will pay for their use of the criminal courts-i.e. for the cost of running and administering the courts.
This controversial proposal from the MoJ (aren’t they all?) is completely separate from and in addition to existing financial impositions such as: fines, compensation to victims, victim surcharge and prosecution costs, the latter often currently referred to as court costs- these will all continue to be ordered as decided by sentencers. Our current understanding is that the Criminal Courts Charge will be imposed in all cases where there is a conviction and regardless of whether a defendant receives a custodial sentence or not, it will always be paid last i.e. when all other financial impositions have been paid. A list of draft charge levels has been compiled as follows:
In addition there will be interest accruing/charged at the rate of inflation if the Criminal Courts Charge remains unpaid.
- in the Magistrates Court the lowest charge will be £150 for a summary offence hearing guilty plea and the highest charge will be £1,000 for an either way trial
- in the Crown Court the lowest charge will be £900 for an indictable only guilty plea charge and an either way or indictable only trial will be charged at £1,200.
The rationale (if you could even call it that) behind these charges is that it is considered to be time that the burden of cost of running the courts was taken away from the taxpayer. It is conceded briefly that even some taxpayers may themselves be defendants! The means test completed at the beginning of court proceedings will determine at what rate the charge is to be paid. Apparently there will be an incentive to keep out of further trouble as if there is no fresh conviction within two years of its imposition then there is the facility for it to be remitted.
It is mooted that the charge might in the long term reduce reoffending by providing a disincentive in itself. The initial work by Napo suggests that this idea is ludicrous in the extreme in that it suggests that not only might the reduction in income caused by the charge be something that an individual might weigh up prior to committing an offence, but also the fact that two years offence free allowing possible remittance of the charge would be a carrot to prevent and reduce reoffending. It is conceded however that increased debt could lead to other destabilising consequences such as family breakdown!!
Worse still the so called analysis and evidence for the introduction of this charge acknowledges that the enforcement of current criminal courts financial impositions is already struggling so it is envisaged that an external provider (guess who?) will be looked for “to deliver compliance and enforcement activity” No matter that the transition to and maintenance of such a service including enforcing the new Criminal Courts Charge will be in the region of “£20million per year” (in addition to costs of enforcement of existing financial impositions).
It seems that the emerging legislation will allow for people to be imprisoned for non-payment - “It is estimated that the potential increase in prison occupancy resulting from this sanction could lead to a cost of around £5million per annum in steady state (although the actual costs are dependent on capacity)”. So more people in prison and absolutely zero prospects of rehabilitation in such cases.In a few years we could see clients also having to pay for private probation, as is the case already in the USA, together with charges for 'bed and breakfast' should they find themselves in default and in prison. The only trouble is, I seem to think it's not possible 'to get blood out of a stone'. But maybe the Tories are working on that one.