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Govt considering controversial digital technology

Stephen Isaacs.

The government is once again considering using controversial digital technology to replace the stenographers who were removed from the Magistrates’ Court more than four years ago, Acting Chief Justice Stephen Isaacs announced on Thursday.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year, Isaacs said that the removal of stenographers had “adversely affected” the magistracy as the “handwritten record is far slower to produce than a stenograph record”.

Isaacs said, “This not only adversely affected the magistrates, but it slowed down the pace of trials and appeals being disposed.”

When the stenographers were removed in 2013, it was anticipated that a voice recording systems would be purchased and installed, Isaacs said.

The proposal was, however, opposed by lawyers and then Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson, who is now the Minister of State for Legal Affairs.

At the time, Johnson said the Bar Association did not support the implementation of digital recording because of problems encountered in other jurisdictions.

At a press conference called by the Bar in 2013 to speak against the move, attorney Jairam Mangra, said he was in a trial where a recorded interview turned into a silent movie because of a technical malfunction.

He said that was a “real world example of the vagaries of technology and we live in the real world”.

However, Isaacs said the project that is being explored and tested with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy has “a lot of potential” since stenographers only take the record in the lower courts on request.

Isaacs said, “We await anxiously the fruits of this effort, especially to bring some relief to the magistrates.”

The reliability of the digital recorders in court has also come under fire in Boston.

According to a report on WCVB-TV last February, Chief Justice of Trial Court Paula Carey was troubled by the serious flaws in the transcripts based on recordings from For The Record, or FTR, and she said the court will not rely solely on digital recordings unless the technology is performing satisfactorily.

Carey said, “We need to get it right, and we’re committed to getting it right. This is too important.

“The Massachusetts judiciary prides itself on maintaining individual liberty rights, ensuring justice as best we can, and we intend to continue to do that with regard to this situation as well.”


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