LAO policy problematic for transcriptionists
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO) current approach to paying for appeal transcripts risks driving the few remaining experienced court reporters out of the transcription business — and raises a potential access to justice issue, warns Kim Neeson, founder and president of Neesons Court Reporting.
Under the Approved Court Transcriptionists (ACT) system in place since 2014, authorized providers may charge the prescribed rate of $4.30 per page to transcribe court proceedings, plus an additional 55 cents-per-page rate for official copies, she says.
However, Neeson says LAO’s latest interpretation of the charging rules for appeal copies effectively asks transcriptionists to work for free if portions of the trial were already transcribed before the appeal was launched.
“For a government concerned about the living wage, they don’t appear to be worried about paying people properly for the work they do,” Neeson says. “I understand legal aid is under tremendous pressure, and this is just another way to cut costs, but I don’t know anyone else who works for free.”
Neeson says ACTs who have already produced a certified first copy of the transcript at the $4.30 rate have traditionally charged the 55-cent rate on each of the five copies required by Ontario’s Court of Appeal.
But LAO’s new position suggests it will not make any additional payments for the five appeal copies required by the Court of Appeal since the Crown-owned Queen’s Printer prints the extra copies for free.
She says LAO’s stance fails to take into account all the hours of extra work that can go into preparing transcripts for the Court of Appeal, including:
- Preparing and filing Court of Appeal certificates;
- Editing the transcript to remove sections not required, such as counsel’s submissions;
- Special title page requirements, including lists of all witnesses and exhibits;
- Delivering the transcripts to ordering party.
Neeson says the exodus of experienced shorthand reporters began when the province outsourced transcript production in 2014. Court reporters once employed by the province were given the option of joining the ACT register, but she says much of the work has been left to less qualified new ACTs, who need only take a short part-time course to get themselves on the list of authorized providers.
LAO’s latest move will accelerate the shift, according to Neeson.
“Many of the experienced reporters are going to say, ‘It’s not worth my time if they’re not going to pay me for all the work I do,’” she says. “The quality of transcripts has already been compromised, and at some point, it’s going to become an access to justice issue if people can’t get a proper transcript because there aren’t enough people who understand court parlance and processes.”
If ACTs take a stand and refuse to accept the new interpretation of the applicable rates on principle, Neeson predicts LAO may be forced to hire a new transcriptionist to produce a fresh first copy, resulting in a significantly higher cost than if they just paid for the extra copies.
She notes that the company charged with maintaining and administering the official list of ACTs seems to acknowledge that possibility in its new frequently asked questions section, which advises that: “If counsel is unable to find a transcriptionist willing to accept LAO rates, the ordering party is asked to contact LAO’s Lawyer Services and Payments Department or the Case Manager.”