Court reporting services have been around since basically the start of formal judicial systems. Court reporters play a vital role in the integrity, reliability, and overall outcome of legal proceedings. In the U.S. there were 21,200 court reporters as of 2012, with employment estimated to grow 10% by 2022. In Ireland that trend could be going the other direction if changes aren’t made.
Attorney General of Ireland, Maire Whelan, has seen enough evidence of a possible “chilling” effect in regards to court reporting that she’s asked for a review of the country’s defamation laws. In front of a large gathering of judges and lawyers at the Four Courts, Whelan argued that reform is essential to preserve the level and quality of court reporting people expect.
“One of the most challenging assignments in journalism in the State must be that of court reporter; subject to very tight deadlines, endeavoring to assimilate complex and involved details and present them in a clear, accessible and coherent fashion whilst getting names and titles correct,” Whelan said. “Court reporters by their work execute this important constitutional value and thereby serve the public interest.”
Unfortunately, as Whelan went on to point out, court reporters in their country live in constant fear of small oversights, omissions, or errors that could jeopardize their career and entire livelihood. According to Whelan, there should at least be some debate as to whether the standard for such a defamation case should require actual proof of malice intent.
In the U.S., the minimum speed needed to become certified by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) is 225 words per minute. Ireland’s presumably follows a similar standard, which when you’re dealing at that rapid a rate opens the door to potential mistakes.
Justice Nicholas Kearns did however warn about the risks of making decisions that decrease accountability and could have unintended consequences down the road:
“They [courts] should never put themselves in the position of realizing, all too late, that a particular decision has opened a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences which, had proper consideration been applied at the relevant time, might have led to a different approach being taken.”