A new scheme that will separate the in-court recording of proceedings from the preparation of transcripts could end up affecting the record and should concern the legal community, says Toronto court reporter Kimberley Neeson.

As Law Times reports, changes are on the way in January that will mean government-employed court reporters will oversee in-court digital recordings of proceedings. Contracted court transcriptionists on a panel list overseen by an independent body will then perform the resulting transcription work for Ontario’s criminal, civil, and family court systems, in a move that will reportedly take the work outside of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union bargaining unit.

But, say reports, OPSEU is taking the province to court, saying that the new scheme flies in the face of a recent Grievance Settlement Board decision. OPSEU “accused the province of being in violation of the collective agreement by not applying it to court reporters who prepare and certify transcripts,” says Law Times, and got a cease-and-desist order aimed at applying the terms and conditions of the collective agreement.

“The division between salaried court reporters and independent contractors is only troubling if there is no vetting or requirement for qualifications necessary to create the court record. In other words, the government may legitimately be able to save money on court reporting costs in terms of salary, but what will they give up in terms of quality? Quality of justice is priceless, especially when someone’s freedom, livelihood, reputation or significant funds are at risk,” says Neeson, owner of Neeson & Associates Court Reporting and Captioning Inc.

”The record will suffer as a result of having transcripts prepared by transcriptionists who were never at the hearing in the first instance,” she adds.

For example, she says, if a forensic report is entered and the doctor testifying is presenting complex scientific evidence, the transcriptionist does not have access to the report and the witness on the stand, where he/she can directly get clarifications of what is being said and spellings.

“This is also important in the civil context where complex litigation, which may range anywhere from patent litigation to medical malpractice to complex industrial or chemical processes (soup to nuts) where again, the transcriptionist is not in a position to ask meaningful questions at the time – only the court reporter in court can do this. If the recording is muffled, obliterated or obscured, this may not be obvious until the time of transcription and by then it’s too late to get the testimony ‘back’ as it were,” she adds.

Since the early 1980s, says Neeson, the government has tried over and over to eliminate court reporters and has finally succeeded in rolling out a plan they’ve had in their sights for the last few decades.

Ultimately, she says the legal community should be concerned about the division between the taking of the record and the producing of the record.

“When I was president of the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association in the mid-1990s, three pilot test sites were set up to test the system of recording testimony and having a typing pool prepare the transcript. The result of the report was that the transcript was replete with errors – the one I’ll always remember was The Sprinkler Court of Canada for The Supreme Court of Canada…that’s an easy one. Imagine what you might read with words like dystrophic calcification, polymorphonuclear, denaturant,” she explains.