HC Deb 27 July 1999 vol 336 cc114-5
31. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

What steps his Department has taken to monitor the quality of court interpreters. [91629]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Keith Vaz)

With effect from 1 April 1998, the Lord Chancellor's Department, with the magistrates courts, agreed to use interpreters from the national register of public service interpreters whenever possible. The register is administered by the Institute of Linguists, which is responsible for monitoring the quality of the interpreters on the register. In Crown and magistrates courts, the aim is to use only interpreters from the register by the end of 2001.

Tribunals also have an agreement with the Institute of Linguists for the provision of interpreters. With effect from September 1999, in-court assessments will be performed to ensure that interpreters maintain their standards.

In civil cases, it is the responsibility of the individual claimant or defendant to arrange and pay for an appropriately qualified interpreter for his or her own claim or defence.

Ms Stuart

I am grateful for that answer. I am sure that the Minister is aware of correspondence that I have had recently with the Birmingham legal interpreters' steering committee, which expressed its concerns about unqualified court interpreters being used in Crown court cases. That particular situation has been remedied. However, I am concerned that we should address the matter with some seriousness as the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is making its way through the House, provides for the use of interpreters for witnesses and defendants who have hearing difficulties or a speech impairment. I should be grateful for some reassurance that the measures that apply to court interpreters will be extended to that group of people.

Mr. Vaz

Perhaps my hon. Friend, who speaks at least three other languages, should herself be on the national register. I am aware of the case that she has raised, as was the Department. We do not accept that it is right for interpreters to subcontract their work, which is what happened in that case. Of course it is important that we keep all these services under review, and the feedback from the judiciary and others in the court system will help us to maintain a proper register with all the relevant information. I can also assure my hon. Friend that the other points that she raised concerning the youth justice courts will be taken on board.