Court reporters push for rethink – The Australian
By Nicola Berkovic
NSW court reporters have urged the state’s barristers to demand that the government abandon its plans to outsource court reporting services in the NSW Supreme Court.
The reporters have warned that privatising court reporting services will result in lengthy delays, inferior transcripts and rising costs for litigants.
Senior court reporter Sadie Spencer, chairwoman of the court reporters branch of the Public Service Association of NSW, wrote to NSW Bar Association chief executive Philip Selth on Monday, warning that the proposal to outsource court reporting should be of “grave concern” to judges and lawyers.
Ms Spencer said the department had proposed outsourcing as a user-pays service in all civil matters in the Supreme Court.
“We believe the service we provide to the NSW justice system is extremely important and an essential one which offers an efficient, timely, quality service by highly skilled and experienced court reporters,” she wrote.
“If the proposal to outsource goes ahead… there will no longer be any skilled court reporter presence.”
Ms Spencer said that in Queensland, services had declined severely since the government outsourced court reporting services.
She said lawyers in that state had to order and pay for transcripts for the judge to receive a transcript.
Ms Spencer pointed out that notorious sex-offender Robert Fardon’s case was delayed because of the time taken to obtain a transcript.
In the case of former Bundaberg surgeon Jayant Patel, the judge had told the jury members to use their own recollection of proceedings when parts of the transcript did not make sense.
Ms Spencer urged the NSW Bar Association and its members to lobby Attorney-General Greg Smith to retain the government’s reporting services branch and abandon its outsourcing plans, and to raise concerns about the proposal with the opposition and Chief Justice Tom Bathurst.
Parliamentary Secretary for Justice David Clarke wrote to opposition legal affairs spokesman Paul Lynch last week saying the reporting services branch had made extensive use of private contractors since 2005 to meet increasing demands.
He said those contractors complied with court standards of performance, including with respect to timeliness and quality.
Mr Clarke said any changes would be the subject of consultation with court user groups, the judiciary, the union and staff.
The letter followed revelations in The Australian that Supreme Court Judge Michael Pembroke had taken the extraordinary step of writing to the state opposition to warn that outsourcing of court reporting services would compromise the court’s quality and efficiency.
The NSW Bar Association declined to comment.