Capita ordered to pay costs for interpreter serial failure

Outsourcing giant Capita has been ordered to pay costs by the President of the Family Division for “serial failures” to provide Slovak interpreting services.

In Re Capita Translation and Interpreting Ltd [2015] EWFC 5, costs of £13,338.15 were awarded to Kent County Council in respect of hearings on 7 May and 14 November last year.


Sir James Munby had been forced to adjourn the final adoption hearing on 7 May after no one could attend to translate for the Slovak-speaking parents. Two interpreters had been booked on 14 April, but only at 2pm on the day before the hearing was the court was informed by Capita Translation and Interpreting that no interpreters were available.

In an approved judgment, Sir James explained: “This was done by an automatically generated email which included the words ‘We apologise for any inconvenience caused’ – a banal and formulaic statement hardly reflecting the fact that a failure to provide interpreters, particular in a case such as this, causes much more than ‘inconvenience’ to all concerned, not least to the anxious parents.”

Of crucial importance was the agreement between Capita and the Secretary of State for Justice, analysed in Re Applied Language Solutions Ltd [2013] EWCA Crim 326 and equally applicable to public family law proceedings: if a private company takes on the discharge of an obligation of the state, it assumes the responsibility to do so in accordance with the terms it has agreed.

The standard identified by Cobb J in B v B (Costs: Order against non-party) [2013] EWHC 1956 (Fam) was also applied: the failures were “not minor but extensive, and, at two different stages of the litigation, they had a profound effect on the conduct of the proceedings”.

He emphasised that the decision was reached on the facts of this particular case: “I am not to be understood as suggesting that Capita will be liable for each and every failure to provide an interpreter... Nor am I to be understood as suggesting that Capita will be liable for each and every failure to provide a Slovak interpreter, lamentable though its failures to provide such interpreters were in this particular case and, seemingly, more generally.

“Nor should it be assumed that a similar liability will extend to other private-sector contractors whose failures can impact adversely upon the court sitting-day, for example, the companies responsible for producing prisoners at court...”

The “serial failures” in this case reflected wider systemic problems evidenced in the Ministry of Justice’s 2012-2013 Statistical Bulletin. The low “success rate” in the provision of Slovak interpreters (77.7% in 2013), which was “reflected in the complaint rate which is amongst the highest of all language requests”, contrasted markedly to an overall success rate of 93.4% in Q4 2013. Sir James refused permission to appeal.

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