Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Probing justice | Working in slavery - Court reporters begging for more staff and equipment

Published:Thursday | December 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Court reporters who are responsible for taking the verbatim notes of evidence in the circuit courts, and some civil courts, at the Supreme Court claim that they are working in "unfair and deplorable conditions".

"It seems to me that at times, we are being treated as slaves because we have to work around the clock because of staff shortage," said one court reporter.

"There is much talk about the slow pace at which transcripts of trial cases are sent to the Court of Appeal, but we cannot be blamed because we have nothing to do with the staff shortage," another added.

He noted that there was a training programme in 2016-2017 for new court reporters, but they did not attain the required standard and had to be sent back to their substantive posts in the government service.

The shortage is so chronic that for the recent Sentence-Reduction Day in the St Catherine Circuit Court, The Gleaner learned that a judge at the Home Circuit Court had to be asked to adjourn a case to allow the court reporters to go to that court.

Eight court reporters are said to have resigned over the last two years, with those vacancies yet to be filled.

"People are leaving because of the low salary and heavy workload," said one court reporter who charged that the department has no space to store more transcripts and that the boxes with transcripts now on the floor were harbouring lizards.

The court reporter further charged that there was no fax machine or photocopying machine in the department and there was a serious shortage of computers.

"Most of the laptops that we have are not working, and the 10 that were assigned to the department recently have to be shared among us, and so more computers are needed," said another court reporter.

They claimed that requests for help to edit transcripts had not been granted despite indications that this would speed up the preparation of cases that are on appeal.

"Simple requests such as the removal of a dirty carpet ... or the spraying of two courtrooms that are infested with flies have not been addressed," said another court reporter.

"There is no sick bay on the (Supreme Court) building, and we feel it is full time something is done about it," added the court reporter.