The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has “escalated dramatically” the timetable for introducing a new transcription service and said it wants new contracts to be in place by January 2016, it has emerged.
In an informal discussion paper for the June meeting of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC), the MoJ said it was currently looking with HM Courts and Tribunals Service into procurement of the new contracts to provide transcription services.
At same time, the ministry said it was carrying out its own “policy review” into issues relating to the ownership and publication of court judgments, as at present there is no “official concept or definition of what constitutes a transcript that has been approved for publication and/or use on appeal”.
The MoJ said it understood that there had been incidents when “content of a transcript or judgment have been published in breach of a reporting restriction” and asked the committee if this was a rare or frequent occurrence.
The ministry said it would be interested to know how widespread was the practice, particularly in complex and high-value High Court cases, of the courts using a non-panel transcription provider.
Further questions for the CPRC concerned members’ experience of court transcriber Merrill Legal Solutions – which publishes a “large selection” of judgments – and views on the efficiency of free judgments website BAILII.
The ministry added that to meet the January 2016 deadline, secondary legislation would need to be passed by December this year.
According to minutes of last month’s CPRC meeting, members complained of delays in receiving transcripts of judgments, which had a “knock-on effect on the timing of the hearing of appeals”. One member mentioned that some law firms employed their own transcriber to avoid delays.
“The two methods of recording judgements – tape recording and digital – lead to inconsistencies in the quality of recording and consequently the transcription,” the committee heard.
“It was reported that the process and responsibility for making sure the recording equipment was running varied between courts. This could lead to cases not being recorded, particularly where deputy district judges are sitting or where the judge is sitting in an unfamiliar court.”
Judges also complained of the difficulties of being asked to check transcripts to tight deadlines from a judgment given “some time previously”, particularly when no case file was available.
“They reported that quotations are unchecked and that sections are marked ‘inaudible’, general inaccuracies also hampered the checking the judgment. As a result it is a much more time-consuming job than if the judgment had been prepared and checked straight away. It is an inefficient use of judicial resources.”
The CPRC also noted the imbalance in the costs of judgments, with some available free from BAILLI, while parties in the lower courts had to pay a transcription fee.
One committee member suggested that an “off-shore supplier” should be brought in to cut costs and increase speed.
Mr Justice Coulson told the committee he did not believe his comments had fed into the last MoJ procurement exercise and he “felt the current contract did not favour the court”.