Judge told barrister to nip down to Chinese takeaway — for an interpreter

Avatar photo

By Judge John Hack on

Glitch in outsourcing services blamed for lack of Mandarin speaker in trial at Cardiff Crown Court


Chinese takeaway restaurants have a long history of being extremely useful to the legal profession. Countless trainees and junior associates have been fuelled on cartons of Singapore noodles and special fried rice during all-night closing deals at City law firms.

But the on-going controversy over recent government moves to hand translation services to an outsourcing business has thrown one set of Welsh Chinese takeaway establishments into a different spotlight.

Several weeks ago, a judge at Cardiff Crown Court instructed a defence barrister to trawl the Welsh capital’s local Chinese restaurants — not for a takeaway chow fun but for a takeaway translator. Well, not so much a qualified and experienced translator, but just any old waiter or chef who could get a tongue round Mandarin.

According to a report in the Law Gazette, the extraordinary turn of events came at the start of the trial of one Liu Sun, who was in the dock on charges of importing prohibited goods, which she denies.

Courtroom interpreting services are meant to be provided by mega-outsourcing business Capita. Current affairs magazine Private Eye routinely dubs that outfit as Crapita for a catalogue of alleged cock-ups in fulfilling Whitehall contracts.

And it seems the private sector has played a bit of blinder here. According to reports in the Gazette and The Mirror newspaper, when Ms Sun appeared before Judge Burr there were immediately obvious communication issues, as His Honour had clearly dozed off during Mandarin lessons at school.

He adjourned the case until the following day as Capita had allegedly failed to lay on a Mandarin interpreter, but when the parties returned there was still no interpreter.

That is when a prawn cracker shaped light bulb appeared above the judge’s head. He turned to the defence barrister and suggested that he might like to pop round the local takeaway restaurants — avoiding those with names such as the Taj Mahal, or similar, and anything flogging kebabs — to see what he could round up.

Learned counsel was reported to have declined.

The newspaper reports cited Capita as claiming it had no unfulfilled booking registered for a defendant of that name at Cardiff Crown Court on that day.

The Mirror claimed official figures show almost 2,500 court cases were disrupted in the first three months of this year owing to problems with finding appropriate interpreters. The report also maintained the interpreter contract is worth £18 million to Capita, “but [the company] has never met its target of providing interpreters in 98 per cent of cases”.