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OPSEU alerts criminal lawyers to contracting-out of court transcripts

OPSEU alerts criminal lawyers to contracting-out of court transcripts

We the North
We the North
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Justice Demands Accuracy

The quality of the record will be degraded as a result of the government’s plan, says OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

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Please use this letter as a resource when speaking with criminal lawyers in your area about the negative impact that contracting out of court transcripts will have on the administration of justice. Feel free to copy and distribute during non-working hours.

June 28, 2013

Norman Boxall
President
Criminal Lawyers’ Association
189 Queen Street East, Suite 1
Toronto, Ontario M5A 1S2

Dear Mr Boxall:

On behalf of more than 650 court reporters represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, I am writing to alert you to significant changes to the current model of court reporting in Ontario. These changes were outlined in a memo by Deputy Attorney General Lynne Wagner to all staff and managers in the Court Services Division on May 15.

The court reporter will continue to take the in-court record but the preparation of transcripts will be contracted-out to transcriptionists who may never have set foot in a courtroom.

Transcripts will be ordered through an independent administrative body (IAB) that will maintain a registry of court transcriptionists. Ordering parties will select a transcriptionist from the list. Ministry court reporters can opt to be grandparented to the registry but the view of many is that the list will largely consist of firms, including those located off-shore, with large typing pools hired at a low wage to type up the electronic record.

The Ministry will issue a Request for Proposals this summer for a private operator to set up and manage the IAB. The ministry aims to have the IAB operating by the end of the calendar year.

We’re deeply concerned about the privatization of court transcription, for three reasons.

First, we believe the quality of the record can only be degraded. The principle that the in-court reporter is best positioned to produce an accurate record is now eliminated from the justice system. There will no longer be any direct connection between the bench, the bar, court proceedings, and the individual producing the transcripts. The transcriptionist won’t have the   in-court reporter’s familiarity with the case or local knowledge to help ensure accuracy.

Second, we believe the Ministry’s intention is to off-load costs for the production of transcripts to court reporters and litigants. The establishment of the private body will add millions of dollars of unnecessary costs to the administration of justice. These costs will be borne by court reporters and litigants. Court reporters will be required to pay a membership fee in order to be on the list of transcriptionists. We think it’s safe to predict that ordering parties will be charged fees in addition to the page rate for transcripts.

Third, we believe the Ministry of the Attorney General’s decision to introduce a flawed transcription system dovetails with its disregard for three legal decisions by the Grievance Settlement Board of Ontario.

Each ruling has found that the production of transcripts is the bargaining unit work of court reporters and is covered under our collective agreement. On March 1, the Ministry was ordered to cease its violation of the collective agreement and to apply it forthwith to court reporters producing court transcripts. Shamelessly, the Ministry has used every stalling tactic and legal manoeuvre at its disposal to avoid complying with these decisions. Instead of upholding the rule of law, the Ministry of the Attorney General has elected to ignore whatever it finds inconvenient.

One can only conclude that the Ministry is determined to weaken the collective bargaining rights of its employees.

In the interests of maintaining the integrity of Ontario’s criminal justice system and in deference to our province’s professional court reporters who have demonstrated their dedication to upholding the rights of all who come before our legal system, I kindly ask that the Criminal Lawyers’ Association write to John Gerretsen, Attorney General for Ontario, and urge him to abandon his Ministry’s misguided plan to contract out court transcripts.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President

cc: OPSEU Executive Board Members
Jim Jurens, OPSEU Chair, Ministry of the Attorney General Employee Relations Committee