Capita's dog-eared Ministry of Justice database slammed

A Capita-run database offering interpretation services for cases run by the Ministry of Justice has been described as “chaos” by the Committee of Public Accounts (CPA).

The criticism comes as the CPA launched an investigation into the interpretation system, which was built to provide the Ministry of Justice with a system for supplying interpreters to the justice sector.

However, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the CPA, said “almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.

Hodge said the Ministry awarded the contract to ALS, which was taken over by Capita in late 2011, was “clearly incapable of delivering”. The ministry also failed to heed warnings that the contractor was too small to provide services worth more than £1 million, and instead went ahead and splashed out £42 million on an annual contract covering the whole country.

The Ministry of Justice gives defendants who do not have English as their first language access to translators and interpreters. 

It commissioned the database because it felt its old system wasn’t robust enough. Prior to the database the ministry booked interpretation services directly with individual interpreters, many of whom were listed on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). However, it was not pleased with this method, claiming that it was administratively inefficient, and felt that setting up a new centralised system would be cheaper and more efficient. 

The CPA continued to growl about the “chaotic” approach of the database. Although the Ministry did not understand its own basic requirements, such as how many interpreters it needed or in what languages, it also ignored the views of interpreters, who were clear that they had serious concerns about the contract and were adamant that they would not work for ALS.

According to the report, Capita also had no hope of recruiting enough qualified interpreters in time to start the service.

The Ministry needed access to 1,200 interpreters when the contract went live. Just 280 properly assessed interpreters were ready to work.

The dog-eared approach continued when the Ministry decided that the new service would go live nationally in one go. However, the CPA claimed that many of the ‘interpreters’ it thought were available had simply registered an interest on the company’s website and had not been vetted to see if they had the required skills and experience.

It said it heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog.

As a result, the company was able to meet only 58 percent of bookings against a target of 98 percent, rendering the project as “total chaos”.

It meant court officials had to dig around to find qualified interpreters at short notice resulting in more than normal delays, postponed and abandoned trials and an “appalling” quality of interpreters.

Despite the considerable SNAFU, the Ministry only penalised the supplier £2,200.