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Transcript cost decision undervalues skilled court reporters: Neeson

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

A recent appeal court decision could drive experienced court reporters out of the transcription business for good, says Neesons Court Reporting founder and president Kim Neeson.

Ontario Court of Appeal Justice David Watt’s chambers decision describes inconsistencies in the Ministry of the Attorney General’s (MAG) regulations governing the technical requirements and cost of transcripts prepared by Approved Court Transcriptionists (ACT).

“The creator of the inconsistency must be the author of the solution. MAG needs to fix the problem it created,” reads Watt’s decision, urging the province to craft fresh regulations informed by access to justice.

Until the provincial government steps in to redraft regulations, the judge sanctioned what he called an “imperfect compromise,” allowing ACTs to be paid 55 cents per page for just one copy of the transcript out of the five required by the appeal court.

That’s not good enough for Neeson, who explains that ACTs who have already produced a certified first copy of the transcript for $4.30 a page have traditionally charged the 55-cent rate on each of the five copies required by Ontario’s Court of Appeal.

“It’s just a further erosion of the transcript production process,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s a substantial cut to the value placed on that work.

"When the new model came into effect, there was a page increase which many have cited as another reason for non-payment of copies," says Neeson. "However, it should be noted that the cost of transcripts had remained the same for over two decades, where the cost of living obviously did not remain the same over that period of time. Add to that the additional costs of ACTs providing for their own equipment, home office, photocopying and couriering services, the copy rate helps to off-set those real, tangible costs.”

Watt was called in to rule after disputes arose over how much ACTs at trial can charge for the extra copies under the new system introduced in 2014 since the Crown-owned Queen’s Printer runs them off for free.

Neeson says the new rule undervalues 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
  • Preparation of print requisition and final post-print review for binding or content errors

Neeson says experienced shorthand reporters have been leaving the system since 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.

The latest decision will accelerate the shift, according to Neeson, who says she has already largely abandoned transcription services.

“It’s just not worth it anymore for a company that prides itself on experience and quality control,” she says. “You get what you pay for, and if you want well-qualified people who understand what they’re hearing and reading, then you need to pay them properly.”

According to Watt’s decision, the Criminal Code mandates “a copy or transcript of the evidence, charge to the jury, reasons for judgment and the addresses of counsel is to be furnished to the Court of Appeal unless a judge of that court orders otherwise,” but neither the Code nor the Criminal Appeal Rules offer any guidance on fees.

While provincial regulations for “Court Reporters and Court Monitors,” passed following the 2014 changes to the system, deals with transcript costs, Watt noted it conflicted with MAG’s Court Transcript Standards and Procedures Manual, which ignores the extra work ACTs do to check the work of the Queen’s Printer.

“There is no evidence of any systematic checking to ensure completeness by the Queen’s Printer after printing and binding has been completed. This would seem to fall to the ACT. And for that the ACT should be compensated fairly,” Watt wrote.

If an ACT fails to create the transcripts, they can instead deliver an electronic copy to the Court Services Division (CSD) for $20. CSD can then “arrange for the transcript to be reformatted if necessary, printed and bound by the Queen’s Printer, and certified by another ACT at a cost of 55 cents per page for one copy, payable by the appellants to CSD," he said.

If CSD is unable to provide a reformatted copy, the appeal will proceed on a photocopy of the transcript, Watt said in his decision.

“When an ACT receives an order during the trial to prepare a transcript of trial proceedings, but intends to charge 55 cents per page per copy for appeal transcripts, the ACT should give specific notice to and secure the agreement of the ordering party to this effect before accepting the order. Failing such notice and agreement, the appeal copies will be prepared and bound by the Queen’s Printer at no charge to the ACT or the ordering party.

"If the ACT refuses to prepare an appeal transcript otherwise than for 55 cents per page per copy, the ordering party is free to choose another ACT to prepare the transcript and any further copies necessary for appeal,” the judge added.

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