Supreme Court to hear Minister’s appeal over interpreter contract

Case concerns supply of interpreters for immigration service and Legal Aid Board

The Minister had applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal a decision of the Court of Appeal last June. Photograph: iStock

The Minister had applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal a decision of the Court of Appeal last June. Photograph: iStock

 

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform over a decision overturning the award of a contract for supply of interpreters for the State’s immigration service and Legal Aid Board.

The appeal will address what criteria must be met before the courts can interfere with the award of a contract following a tender process governed by public procurement regulations.

The Minister had applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal a decision of the Court of Appeal last June on proceedings brought by Word Perfect Translation Services Ltd, which tendered unsuccessfully for the interpreters contract.

The contract was awarded to another firm, Forbidden City Ltd, trading as Translation.ie. Word Perfect, which supplied interpreters to State bodies over several years, lost out by some 15 marks out of a possible 1,000 and it made several complaints about how the tenders were evaluated.

The Court of Appeal found two “manifest errors” in the tender evaluation process left it with no option, particularly given the closeness of the contest, but to set aside the award of the contract.

The request for tenders for interpretation services was published in October 2015 by the Office of Government Procurement.

The Court of Appeal found that the evaluators committed one manifest error insofar as the quality assurance plan was concerned in wrongly treating Translation.ie as having supplied a “narrative” in the manner required by the tender when Translation.ie had not done so.

Word Perfect scored full marks of 250 under this heading for a “high quality narrative report” while Translation.ie scored 170 (85 per cent).

Second error

The Court of Appeal ruled there was a second manifest error relating to how the service delivery plan was evaluated, specifically, in relation to the requirement that interpreters retain their skills and fluency.

Translation.ie got full marks of 250 under this heading while Word Perfect got 197.5. The “plain fact” was both tenderers did not fully comply with the tender requirements on that issue as neither demonstrated they would “ensure”, rather than just “encourage”, their interpreters to retain their skills, the Court of Appeal found.

In those circumstances, it ruled the perfect score of 250 given to Translation.ie under that heading could not be allowed to stand.

In a published determination this week, a three-judge Supreme Court said it would hear the Minister’s appeal over that decision. The court said the case raised issues of law of general pubic importance related to the public procurement process and the criteria to be met by a court in overturning such an award.

The appeal will address the question of what is the test by which a tender award under public procurement legislation may properly be reviewed by a court. It will also address whether that test was met in respect of the two errors identified by the Court of Appeal.