Category Archives: Politics

Access to Justice, my foot.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

A while ago I blogged about the Ministry of Justice’s decision to give the entire court interpreting contract to a certain company called Applied Language Solutions. Applied are a ‘one-stop shop’ of the kind beloved by the Anonymous Interpreter. Things were not going well.

They’re still not going well.

They’re going so badly in fact, that the Commons Justice Select Committee and the National Audit Office have confirmed they may investigate Applied, and the Crown Prosecution Service have delayed signing up fully to the framework agreement under which Applied supply interpreters.

I wonder why things aren’t going well. Maybe we can ask Jajo the Rabbit or Alexander Orlov the KGB Meerkat, both of whom are registered Applied interpreters. Oh, wait.

It seems that their human companions put their details onto a registration form for Applied as an experiment, and both have been sent invitations to an assessment, and regular job updates, despite not yet having attended said assessments, or indeed provided any documentation proving their credentials.

I’m sure it’s OK, no doubt there’s someone out there who really needs their trial translated into fluent nose-twitching and carrot-nibbling. And apparently, despite the stories of these non-human terps going public, they’re still registered and still getting emails.

This stringent adherence to only recruiting the best, most qualified interpreters and quick reactions to potentially embarrassing problems may have something to do with Applied’s woes.

Or it could be that Applied keep sending the wrong interpreter for the language requested; Czech for Slovakian, Latvian for Lithuanian, Somali for Kurdish Sorani, etc.

Or it could be that they think multiple defendants only need one interpreter.

Or it could be that they think that all languages can be found within a 25 mile radius.

Or it could be that the interpreters keep turning up late.

Or it could be that their interpreters sometimes don’t turn up at all.

And the Ministry of Justice have said they are now going to monitor the situation. Wait. Weren’t they monitoring it before?

No.

It seems that Applied have been allowed to monitor their own performance and set their own performance indicators. As the MOJ said in the above article:

“The definitions of whether interpreters completed or not were decided by the company itself”

Under what circumstances does a contractor give a job to a sub-contractor, whilst saying:

“Here’s the money, and don’t forget to monitor your own performance so we don’t have to.”?

The irony here is that a google search for Paul Pindar (the CEO of Capita, the company that now owns Applied) throws up a link to an interview in the Independent, where he’s asked what the first thing he learned in business was. His response:

“One of the early ones was that if there’s an issue to be tackled then you should do it straight away. I’m a great believer that a small problem today becomes a big problem tomorrow. Fix challenges as soon as possible and then, hopefully, none of the problems will get out of control.”

That’s a lesson he would do well to pay attention to today.

Because amongst other horror stories at RPSI Linguist Lounge, there are several of court cases going ahead anyway, despite the lack of or incompetence of an interpreter.

Eventually some solicitor or barrister is going to check the Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance on having interpreters for defendants, which states:

“If a defendant requires an interpreter to interpret the proceedings, it is the responsibility of the court to arrange for the attendance and payment of an independent interpreter. See Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 section 19(3)(b) (Archbold 6-39). Where there is more than one defendant, each should have a separate interpreter.

A plea is uninformed if the defendant has not fully understood the nature of the case to which he is pleading because of his inadequate understanding of the language and because of the inadequate explanation given by his legal representative See Cuscani v UK (2002 All ER (D) 139 (Sep).”

I… I’ve just had a vision of the future! I can see… I can see the Court of Appeal, absolutely snowed under by all the appeals under ‘uninformed plea’ arguments. Long, expensive, unprofitable appeals. Small problems turning into big problems, anyone?

Truly, I am a prophet.

But to be fair, Capita (or ‘Crapita’ as they’re known to the Private Eye) are no stranger to problems, so even the deluge of appeals may not be enough to shake Applied and their backers.

Geoffrey Buckingham, the Chairman of the Association of Court and Police Interpreters, has written dozens of letters (some of which I’ve seen, and he presents a very good case – well, he would) to the Minister for Justice, to Capita, to Applied, to just about everyone and has campaigned against the MOJ contract, and earlier this month he delivered a damning speech about the situation for a ‘Training for the Future’ workshop in Helsinki, where he systematically pulled apart the MOJ’s and Applied’s mistakes. Read it, it’s a good speech. He finished by saying that if you don’t speak English, there will be no justice for you in the UK.

For my part, I understand English perfectly. I just don’t always understand it very well when it’s spoken at me, especially across an echoey court from 20 feet away. One of these days, someone might push me too far with daft questions about whether I can drive or whether I can read, and I’m going to give them a slap.

I almost certainly won’t understand my rights when they’re read to me as I’m arrested, which in itself was enough for a case against a deaf man to be thrown out a few months ago. Imagine I get dragged into a court. Most decent interpreters, and this includes Sign Language interpreters, won’t touch Applied with a bargepole. Most likely, I’ll end up with a ‘CSW’ with basic level one BSL. Will I understand the slightest thing? Unlikely.

Justice served? It won’t matter. If I’m found not guilty or the case is dismissed due to crap interpreting, I’ll skip away scot-free while blogging about the uselessness of the interpreter.

If I’m found guilty, I’ll just appeal on the grounds of the useless interpreter, then claim compensation. It’s win-win.

Now think of all the defendants that have been let down by Applied, which according to their own figures runs into the thousands. How many solicitors will start to think along the same lines?

Someone better tell the Court of Appeal to get ready.

Advertisements

Telling Our Stories

Tomorrow, I’m due to perform my BSL poetry at Bristol’s M Shed as part of Resistance: Telling Our Stories, an event that has been organised as a (slightly belated) nod to Disability History Month, with the backdrop of Resistance: Which Way The Future?, a media installation directed by Liz Crow of Roaring Girl Productions which is on at the M shed from 5th January to 5th February 2012. More info can be found here:
http://www.journomania.net/culture/38-art-and-culture/517-disability-arts-at-bristols-m-shed-for-uk-disability-history-month-.html
http://www.roaring-girl.com/productions/resistance-on-tour/

I was looking forward to this anyway, but with the twitterstorm that blew up over the #spartacusreport (which I gleefully added my little raindrops to) last monday, the triple defeat of the government in the House of Lords over the Welfare Reform Bill, which Lord Fraud, excuse me, Freud, then attempted to roll back as soon as the Labour peers had left* and the governments’ response which basically seemed to be that they were going to keep pressing ahead with the WRB, despite all protests, it seems to me that the themes of Resistance are just as relevant as ever.

*Mason Dixon gives a colourful and Hollywood-worthy version of events: http://masondixonautistic.blogspot.com/2012/01/us-and-them.html

Resistance looks at the Nazi eugenics program, Aktion T4, during which hundreds of thousands of disabled people… well, disappeared. They just went away in grey vans and didn’t come back. And apparently, not very many people questioned it at the time. It probably didn’t help that Nazi Germany was trying pull itself out of a recession, and the propagandists had done their best to tell everyone how much these ‘useless eaters’ were costing the state, via posters like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EnthanasiePropaganda.jpg
The translation is: “60,000RM. This is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the Community of Germans during his lifetime.”

When some Minister or newspaper bangs on about benefit scroungers / how much the welfare state is costing / benefit fraud, while the coalition sits idly by while the HMRC aids and abets what have to be crimes against the treasury, I think of that poster.

And it’s working. Disability hate crime on the up, people living in terror of Work Capability Assessments, people with mental health issues having to be talked down by kind voices after receiving a particularly nasty letter from the DWP. Well fucking done.

A little fact-checking.
1) DWP own figures put fraud at less than 0.5%.
2) Of the “5.2 billion lost to error and fraud”, only 1.2 billion of that was fraud.
3) The coalition has said they want to cut payment of DLA by 20%.
4) They also say they want to ‘protect the most vulnerable’.
5) Unclaimed benefit in 08/09 was 17.7billion (12.7billion means tested, 5 billion tax credits).

Compare and contrast 3) and 4) with 1), 2) and 5). Conclusion: there are far less benefit scroungers out there than the coalition would have you believe. Am I wrong? Feel free to google it and check. In fact, I want you to google it and check. Challenge me. Challenge the coalition. Just please don’t ignore the Welfare Reform Bill.

And if, after reading the Spartacus Report, you think we should all take a deep breath and be allowed to look at the WRB proposals properly, go over to ‘Pat’s Petition’ and sign the petition to stop and review the cuts to benefits and services.

Spartacus Report/ Responsible Reform:
https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx/Responsible%20Reform%20for%20screen%20readers.doc?cid=cba86408918caa9e
Pat’s Petition:
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

For my part, I hope lots of people will come and check out the Telling Our Stories event, there’s lots of happy stuff as well as serious stuff, and it promises to be at the very least an interesting day out! Plus, there’s my poetry 🙂 For those who can’t make it, the media installation will be on until 5th February.

Which Way The Future?, indeed.

Random ramblings and links

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to update my blog regularly, so here I am. What to write? I fear my life is somewhat uninteresting at the minute. Finished antibiotics a few days ago. Woke up with sore throat. Coughed pitifully. Drank coffee. Took painkillers. Checked twitter. Etc. Apparently, the fact that I’m still unwell even after a course of antibiotics indicates that my infection is at least partly viral. No, really? And it can last for up to 6 weeks or more. Thanks for that.

However, life goes on, and the main event for me yesterday was the launch of the spartacusreport / Responsible Reform report on the proposed changes to DLA, funded, written by and supported by the very people the proposed changes affect, and ooh, does it make for enlightening reading.

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/response_to_proposed_dla_reforms.pdf

For example, where 98% of respondents opposed the qualifying period being raised to 6 months from 3, this somehow got translated by the government document as “some organisations were in favour of our proposal to extend the Qualifying Period from 3 months to 6 months before benefit would be paid… However many organisations and some individuals were not in favour of this” Er, excuse me? 98% against gets translated to ‘many’ and ‘some’ and 2% for is translated to ‘some’? Making it look as though the numbers aren’t as damning as they are? Google it if you don’t believe me. Even Boris Johnson objected in his submission: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielknowles/100127807/boris-johnson-turns-his-fire-on-the-governments-reforms-to-disability-living-allowance/ I think I’m starting to like Boris. It’s a strange sensation.

What I find even more damning though, is that the #spartacusreport was trending on twitter yesterday, even at first place for a short while, then hovering in second for the whole afternoon. It received support from various celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin, and even John Prescott noticed. It attracted millions of tweets.

And yet, where is the BBC report on this amazing reponse to the Welfare Reform Bill? Where is the Daily Mail story on this socially-funded and researched report? This must be it: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2084445/Incapacity-benefits-10-000-sick-Britons-abroad-claiming-1m-week.html
Oh, my mistake. Also, notice the ‘MAIL COMMENT: the welfare state has become a bonanza for the feckless’, mere days after being forced to print that, actually, the fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5%: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2083294/Boris-Johnson-attacks-Tory-plans-benefits-squeeze-disability-living-allowance.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
It’s like they’ve learned nothing.

Where is ANY mainstream news report on the twitterstorm that #spartacusreport inspired? It’s times like this that make me feel paranoid.

And how appropriate then, that the Resistance Exhibition Event: Telling Our Stories opens at M shed in Bristol this weekend, as a nod to Disability History Month. I’ll be performing BSL poetry in Studio 2 on Saturday as part of this event, all are welcome! http://mshed.org/whats-on/events/resistance-exhibition-event-telling-our-stories/ Check out the poster – how cool is that? Posed by none other than Liz Crow, the director of Resistance. Come on down!

Oh, and another thing: according to the pope, gay marriage is a threat to humanity’s future: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/09/us-pope-gay-idUSTRE8081RM20120109
There’s a lot of things I could say in response to this, but a tweet by Patrick Strudwick has summed it up perfectly:

Today the pope said that gay marriage undermines “the future of humanity itself”. I say telling people not to use condoms already has.

Well, quite.

Update:

An hour after I published this, the Daily Mail posted this. They pretty much agree with everything I said, and more. They tear into Cameron and the WRB, defend the disabled and quote the Spartacus Report. Not only do I take back (some) of what I said about them in my previous post, I think I may need a lie-down to get over the shock.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2084706/David-Camerons-Welfare-Reform-Bill-Hiding-truth-way-achieve-it.html

In fact, screw the lie-down, where’s my codeine? Fan me, someone, fan me.

Atos medical – yippee (!)

So I was having a nice quiet Saturday morning, until a letter landed on the mat. It was from Atos, inviting me to a medical, well, if you can call “we have arranged an appointment for you at: ******* . It is important that you attend. If you fail to attend, your benefit may be affected” an invitation.

It’s not the tone of the letter that has me astonished, horrified and not sure whether it’s appropriate to laugh. In the form they sent me and that I sent back to them a while ago, I explained that I cannot walk far without resting, that steps are an issue and my feet are painful. In response, with this appointment invitation, they have sent me a ‘suggested route’ to the assessment centre – a 1 hour 14 minute journey by walking and by bus, with 5 changes – Walk, bus, walk, bus, walk.

Are they insane? Stupid? Having a laugh? Or all of the above? Or maybe they really think that I am capable of this, and of course if I actually do take their suggested route (ha!) they’d no doubt use it as evidence that I’m not eligible for benefits. And to make it clear, I actually stopped claiming ESA a month ago, and am registered as self-employed with the HMRC. I was claiming ESA from september to March because I got so tired of being jerked around by the JobCentre – maybe one day I’ll describe some of my more colourful experiences with them on here – and actually took less money on ESA than I did on JSA just because a) my legs were getting to the point that driving myself to jobcentre was becoming more of a pain and b) I wasn’t asked moronic questions every two weeks.

They are so far behind, it’s taken them 8 months and a month after I stopped claiming to get round to giving me a medical. And this is how the government is going to overhaul our benefits system.

I have a better idea – encourage, no, force the various departments to talk to each other. In my dealings with the DWP / JobCentre / BCC / Other agencies, I’ve lost count of the number of times that information is simply not passed from one to the other and more often than not, important documents are ‘lost’. The onus is on me to make sure everyone is up to date. No wonder it’s so easy to screw the system. Unless you’re genuine, like me, then the system screws you. I agree completely that the benefits system needs a complete overhaul. But instead of treating the claimants like criminals and idiots, why not emphasise the importance of communication and competence to the people administrating the system? I guarantee things would improve much quicker than by giving everyone a bewildering new set of rules.

Now what was my point when I started all this? I’m sure I had one. Oh yes – I will NOT be taking Atos’s suggested route to the assessment centre. I will be insisting on the attendance of a BSL interpreter. I’m also seriously considering taping the whole thing, so I can show how they deal with deaf claimants, or in my case, deaf ex-claimants.

Atos, here I come!