Court reporters, also known as verbatim reporters, stenographers or shorthand writers, make a word-for-word (verbatim) record of proceedings in court. They listen carefully to everything being said and record it either in traditional shorthand or more likely (especially in England and Wales), by using machine shorthand.
Using machine shorthand, court reporters type whole words and phrases at a single stroke on the keyboard. Linked to a computer-aided transcription (CAT) system, the shorthand notes can then be displayed simultaneously as an English transcript. A stenograph or palantype machine is normally used and can reach speeds of over 200 words per minute.
After the court session, they transform the speech into a written record that can be easily read and understood without distorting the original sense or intention. They correct any grammatical mistakes, edit the text and produce a final transcript.
Sometimes lawyers want to see the transcript before the case continues the next day, and while in court, reporters may be asked to read back passages as they are recorded. In some cases a real-time system is used, where notes are displayed on a large screen or a network of computer monitors as the proceedings happen.
Court reporters may work irregular hours. Court sessions are usually held between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday but reporters have to be seated before court begins. Some courts have an earlier start of 8.30am or 9am and reporters are expected to stay until proceedings close. They may have to work outside these hours if a special hearing is held in the evening or during a weekend.
Court reporters spend most of their time in court and this involves sitting for long periods of time in a formal setting. Some of their transcription work may be done at home or in an office after the proceedings have finished.
They often have to travel considerable distances, taking their CAT machine and computer with them, so a driving licence may be required.
As a court reporter, you should:
There is a shortage of suitably qualified court reporters in England and Wales. There is a move in Scotland towards taping cases, which has meant a rapid decline in new job opportunities. Many court reporters are based in London, but there are opportunities in any town with a crown court. Some firms service several courts over a large area.
Court reporters are employed by firms with contracts with the Lord Chancellor's Department to provide reporting services to the crown courts and courts of appeal in England and Wales. Others work on a freelance basis, finding work through the contract holding firms. There are opportunities for part-time work.
Shorthand writers can work in places other than courts, for example: public inquiries, political conferences, court martial, disciplinary hearings and for international organisations like the United Nations.
There are increasing opportunities for stenographers to work in television, subtitling programmes for viewers with hearing impairment. Opportunities are also increasing in conference reporting. Some police forces have begun to use verbatim reporters to record interviews.
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