Chief Justice Sykes hears the appeal of complaining staffMonday, October 18, 2021
By Alicia Dunkley-Willis
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has said the resource and staffing challenges, which have contributed to the late production of transcripts in the high courts and the parish courts much to the angst of the Court of Appeal, are being remedied.
We recognise that the production of transcripts are far from ideal; in fact, it's a terrible situation to be in. So what we did is launch a project in respect of the parish courts and so far we have identified 121 cases in the parish courts where the transcripts are to be produced and those are being targeted now for delivery to the Court of Appeal,” Sykes told members of the media during a special briefing last week.
A transcript is the official record of a trial produced by a court reporter. In parish courts which do not have stenographers, sitting judges take their own notes of evidence.
The chief justice who described the system of transcript production in the parish courts as “really antiquated”, said the use of appropriate technology in those courts would have to be looked at carefully.
“It is one in which the judge writes in longhand and, because the judge is trying to go as quickly as possible, the handwriting may not be the most legible, then in the event that someone wishes to appeal at the end of the matter, that note made by the judge has to be read by the typists who then produce a draft and then that draft is sent to the judge. By that time the judge could have transferred to another parish and the process goes back and forth until the transcript is produced,” Sykes explained.
“So this is pointing to the need to have audio recordings in those courts in particular and across the judiciary generally where proceedings are at least recorded so we have transcriptionists that can then now turn the audio into text. Those are things that we are looking at,” he said, adding that a committee has been established to assess all the areas.
In respect of transcripts coming from the Supreme Court, the chief justice said the methodologies there also needed to be retired.
“We are in the process of changing the methodologies. And, also, there is the question of old equipment. The court reporters have the stenography machines that they use that are not just old but obsolete, apparently nobody repairs those things anymore and no parts can be bought for them so they are really fit for the museum. But what is needed now is new stenograph machines,” he said.
In July this year, the issue of late transcripts once again took centre stage after the Court of Appeal, in freeing two men who were convicted for crimes, ruled that their constitutional rights had been breached because of the delay in the production of the transcripts related to their case.
Meanwhile, Justice Sykes in highlighting the need for computers, which has been a particular grouse among court reporters, said several machines received a few years ago were no longer fit for the task.
“We are grateful, but time has shown that the computers were not as robust as we would like and they have been malfunctioning and so the court reporters have been labouring under this disability which we intend to remedy,” he said, noting that new computers have been received recently, which are being labelled and numbered for distribution. He, however, said the full complement of computers needed had not been received.
Addressing court staff complaints that they were overworked, the chief justice said the administrative maladies which contributed to this situation had also been worked out.
“What was happening before is that the same members of the registry who went to court, on their return from court or chambers would also be the persons doing the registry work in terms of arranging the documents and placing them on files. So what that meant was that when they went off to court you didn't have persons doing that kind of necessary activity and that resulted in delays.
“So, with the review of the structure of the courts that should mean that you also have enough persons remaining within the registry to deal with the files because the file is at the centre of all that happens within the court. If the file is not current, not up to date, then really nothing else can happen,” Chief Justice Sykes said.
That scenario, he said, based on observations over the past three years, “has affected significantly the productivity of the court”.
“Another thing that we have done is to increase the number of judicial clerks — there are 42 judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice and the senior puisne judge — to 20 judicial clerks up to last year. The establishment has now been increased to 42 and so the expectation is that with one judge having their own clerk, productivity should also improve,” Sykes told the media.