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Lawyers To Take Action Over Lack Of Stenographers

By LAMECH JOHNSON

Tribune Staff Reporter

ljohnson@tribunemedia.net

LAWYERS of the Criminal Bar Association intend to take legal action against Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson for the removal of stenographers from the Magistrate’s Court.

This action comes nearly a month after calling a press conference to protest the removal of court reporters, leaving it to magistrates to take handwritten notes until digital recording comes on stream later this year.

Lawyers gathered yesterday at the steps of the Nassau and South Streets court complex, and indicated that they are taking the issue to the Supreme Court.

“Since then (February 14), there has been some discussion with the stakeholders and decision makers,” lawyer Murrio Ducille told the media.

“The AG suggested that we may choose to bring our court reporter, but the problem is our court reporter’s record would assist us, but it’s not the official record of the proceedings in the trial, the magistrate’s notes are,” he added.

“Matters are being adjourned, but some magistrates are proceeding with trials despite the reasoned objections by defence counsel on instructions from their clients. This has created some disquiet among some magistrates who see our assertion of our client’s right to a fair trial as a hindrance in what they are required to do... to make an accurate recording of the evidence and legal arguments in the proceeding... no more, no less.”

“It is a no-brainer that one cannot record accurately or at all anything relevant and important if one does not write what is said as part of the trial process. As one client puts it, ‘the magistrates do not go to jail, I do. I need to have my case properly recorded if I am convicted and have to appeal’.”

The decision by the government to take stenographers from the Magistrate’s Court in favour of digital recording was met with heavy criticism from members of the Criminal Bar Committee.

At a press conference held by the Bahamas Bar Association, President Elsworth Johnson said the body did not support the implementation of digital recording because of problems encountered in other jurisdictions.

Jairam Mangra, who was also at the press conference, said he was in a trial where a recorded interview turned into a silent movie because of a technical malfunction.

Mr Mangra said there would have been no evidence presented in the trial if there had not been a written interview. He said that was a “real world example of the vagueries of technology and we live in the real world”.

In defence of the criticisms, however, Attorney General  Maynard-Gibson recently said that magistrates will not have to take longhand notes for long and that the government would learn from the problems encountered by other countries.

Yesterday, however, she could not be reached for comment up to press time.

Dr Glendon Rolle also commented on a situation that he considered “dire”.

“One of the suggestions made was that there would be digital recorders in the courts. And then those recordings would be sent to Singapore and persons in Singapore will then interpret them into transcripts and then send them back to us the next day.”

He considered this not only a violation of citizen’s constitutional rights, but also a disrespect to Bahamians by the mere suggestion to “send those recordings to persons where they don’t know who is speaking, what is going on, what context within the transcripts just to remove the stenographers who are fully trained and qualified and not being used”.

“This political slogan that we have, ‘Bahamians first’ if that is what it is, is it just a political ploy or what is it?” he asked.

Lessiah Rolle added that “it would be in the advantage of swift justice to have those stenographers replaced and brought back into the Magistrate’s Court”.

“It will take the magistrates longer to conduct and conclude a trial when they have to take handwritten notes as it would if the stenographers would be there. In addition, it creates a hardship, not only on the magistrate and an injustice to those persons who are being tried before the court.”

Monique Gomez believes that the issue comes down to “how far are they going to go if we don’t stand up for something?”

“Today is the stenographers being taken out, tomorrow what is it going to be?” she asked.

“We have to take a stance and our stance is that they really need to put the stenographers back to protect the interest of everybody because today, it is somebody else but tomorrow it could be you or me. And we have to protect everybody’s rights and the constitution allows us this,” she emphasised.

According to Article 20(1), “if any person is charged with a criminal offence, then unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law”.

Article 28 notes that “if any person alleges that any of the provisions of Articles 16 to 27 (inclusive) of this Constitution has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened in relation to him then, without prejudice to any other action with respect to the same matter which is lawfully available, that person may apply to the Supreme Court for redress.”

Krysta Mason-Smith presented these arguments last Friday when she informed Magistrate Andrew Forbes of her intention to file a constitutional motion in reference to those articles of the constitution because the magistrate could not comply with her client’s request to have a stenographer present for his trial.

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