Image of a Court Reporter operating a Stenograph

Most non-common law judicial systems do not use court reporters and there is no verbatim transcript of court proceedings. The absence of a contemporaneous record of proceedings is not deemed a violation of due process within the context of these judicial systems. In many of these countries witness testimony is submitted in writing, not presented live during court proceedings. In addition, the initial appeal is de novo, with evidence presented a second time to the appellate court.

German judges dictate a condensed summary of the proceedings to a court secretary. Witnesses may review the summary of their testimony for accuracy; counsel is also given the opportunity to review the judge’s summary and may request changes.

In many common law countries, a court reporter (human or electronic) creates a transcript of all case-related proceedings, word-for-word. This verbatim transcript becomes part of the record and is considered essential for transparency, accountability, and the due process rights of the accused in criminal cases. A transcript of court proceedings enables defendants to review trial testimony and can play an important role in the appellate review process.

Transcripts are taken in different ways:

  • a stenographer sits in the courtroom and uses phonetic shorthand and a specialized keyboard;
  • a transcription program converts the shorthand to text;
  • a voice writer dictates the proceedings into a machine that creates a digital file;
  • specialized software serves as an electronic court reporter;
  • an audio recording of proceedings is made and later converted into a transcript.

(See: Court Reporting Series, @IsabelleLumsden)

In common law countries without access to skilled court reporters or technology, judges take copious notes of court proceedings; their notes are transcribed and become part of the trial record. Since this process is both laborious and vulnerable to inaccuracies and corruption, judiciaries such as Kenya’s have introduced electronic recording systems.

Countries like England and Australia are increasingly replacing court stenographers with video or audio recordings of proceedings as a cost savings measure. Transcripts can then be prepared at the request of the parties or the judge in specific matters.

Malaysia and Singapore have begun to use technology to create a verbatim transcript of court proceedings. The Romanian judiciary introduced an audio recording system to increase efficiency and accountability. These recordings are made available to the parties. If allegations of misconduct are filed against a judge, the National Judicial Inspection reviews the recordings as part of its investigation. In China, the law clerk was traditionally responsible for transcribing a record of proceedings. In 2010, a new regulation was enacted requiring all courts to video and audio record all trials. These recordings would be used by clerks to create more accurate and efficient records.