“They have Court Reporting there?” I’m sure this is the question that many of you would have asked yourselves upon hearing this. Yes, we do work in between enjoying the sun, sea and sand (its 86° Celsius in December). The most popular question I am asked though is, “Where is Trinidad and Tobago?” Well, it is the southernmost island in the archipelago of Caribbean islands and is approximately, seven miles from Venezuela’s northeastern coast.
These small islands, Trinidad being 1,864 square miles and Tobago being 116 square miles, is where I proudly call home, as well as, the other 1.3 million persons who have ancestral roots in places such as India, Africa, China, Europe, South America and pretty much every other country whose peoples have inhabited this twin island Republic. Our first inhabitants were the Caribs and Arawaks who inhabited the country when Christopher Columbus first landed here in 1498, believing it to be a new trade route to India, but their population quickly diminished with the Spanish enslavement and disease. The Arawaks were completely wiped out, but to date, there is still a small Carib population surviving in Trinidad.
Tobago, on the other hand, was also re-discovered by Columbus during his trip in 1498, but due to its majestic beauty, it was considered a valuable bargaining chip and thus changed hands between the British, French, Dutch, and Courlanders well over fifty times before being incorporated with Trinidad as a single Crown Colony in 1889. Trinidad and Tobago eventually gained its independence from Britain in 1962 and became a Republic in 1976. It is also a member of CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and the Commonwealth, which is headed by the Queen of England.
Following its independence, the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which is the third and independent arm of a democratic Government, was created by the Constitution and consists of the Magistracy (lower court), High Court, and Court of Appeal. The Privy Council in England is our Court of last resort. In 2001, ten of the CARICOM member states signed to an agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Two other states signed to the agreement later on, and it was officially inaugurated in 2005. This came about in a bid to move away from the Privy Council and years of British “supervision” and to establish a regional court of last resort, which would perform much like the European Court of Justice for its signatories. The seat of the CCJ is located in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but ironically, Trinidad and Tobago has not yet signed as accepting the CCJ as its final Court Of Appeal.
In the early 2000’s, the leaders of the Judiciary recognized the need for the implementation of a system to effectively capture and store proceedings as well as to deal with the growing caseloads. In 2002, after evaluating several audio digital systems, the FTR or “For the Record” pilot project was launched. This was to provide relief, primarily to the Magistracy, due to the fact that notes of evidence were still being written by hand by notetakers sitting in court and were typed at a later date with the assistance of a typist.
This resulted in lengthy delays, as opposed to the High Court and Court of Appeal who were privy to the services of Computer Aided Transcription (CAT) reporters. But not all judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal were serviced by CAT reporters owing to the fact that there were only a handful of them and as such they focused their attention on criminal matters. So the judges in civil courts were also taking handwritten notes. As one could imagine, the delivery of justice was severely handicapped and, as such, a Court Reporting Services Unit structure comprising the existing CAT Reporters, Court Transcriptionists, Proofreaders, and Scopists was created to service all 119 Courtrooms around the country.
The Judiciary’s vision of an audio digital system was to marry technology and case flow management to produce an accurate transcript of proceedings with fewer delays in the production process and easy access to recordings of proceedings, but as with any new system, the relevant human resources were lacking, which resulted in the Judiciary collaborating with a local tertiary education provider to teach and train persons to become Court Transcriptionists. The Court Transcriptionists would mainly work in the Magistracy to clear up the backlog and in the upper realms on an as-needed basis. This became a reality in May of 2005 with 16 Transcriptionists, and we are now a Unit which boasts approximately 60 persons.
There is a well-known saying that nothing can beat work experience and that is especially true in this profession. A lot of what I have learned was not taught in a classroom, especially the many different languages that comprise the culture that is Trinidad and Tobago. Although English is the primary language, our everyday language is intertwined with Patois, which is French Creole, Spanish, and Hindi and that is what makes us unique. Because we are populated by so many cultures, religions, creeds and races, the second-to-last line in our anthem so rightly states, “Every creed and race find an equal place”.
We are considered to be the melting pot of the Caribbean and “every man jack” (everybody without exception) has their own words or phrases that form part of the everyday language. It’s quite amusing when you hear about a “Piper” (drug addict) talk about how the Babylon (Police) planass (to get hit with the flat part of a machete) him for ah zout ah weed (small bit of marijuana), or when someone is considered uncooperative while giving evidence and one statement ends up revealing the entire story (mout’ open ‘tory jump out) that is when the bacchanal (public row or scandal) does start.
As with any country we are also plagued with the ills of serious crime such as murders, rapes, incest, gang violence, et cetera, but it is well-known that there is code among thieves. So if you get lock up (arrested) for a murder or a robbery you go to prison with some “dignity”, but the raperman scene eh cutting it (rapists are not tolerated) and they does lose stripes (demoted in esteem). So whether you end up in trouble with the law because you get ah horn (the love of your life is involved with someone else) and the tabanca (abandoned feeling after the end of a love affair) drive you to drink resulting in an accident or you take chain up (encouraged) to t’ief (steal) from a honest man and get ketch (caught) well who doh hear go feel (if you don’t heed advice then face the consequences).
Because it is practically impossible to be familiar with all the colloquial words or phrases that exist, we utilize two dictionaries: Cote Ci Cote La and Dictionary of English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago, which help to fill in the blanks (Whew!).
Court Reporting is vastly different and varies from region to region, which is what I realized from my maiden attendance at the recent AAERT Conference, but we still have many similarities (attorneys who refuse to speak into the mike, paper shuffling, phones going off) and experiences which we are able to share, learn from and grow into well-versed professionals in the field. It is my hope that this little article would have given you some insight, and maybe some laughs, as to how similar and different Court Reporting is in another part of the world. Have a safe and happy 2015.
Just to ease some grammatical confusion, we in Trinidad and Tobago use British English or The Queen’s English. Here are just a few tips that may help you:
Punctuation marks are put outside of quotation marks unless they form part of the quoted material, but colons and semi-colons always go outside.
Here are some common differences in spelling:
British American Example
re er theatre, theater
our or colour, color
ise ize organise, organize
yse yze analyse, analyze
isation ization organisation, organization
We use an apostrophe in dates, eg, 2000’s and write the date as DD-MM-YYYY.
Head of Court Transcription,
Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Born and raised in Siparia, an area in the southern part of Trinidad, I attended up to High School and was then shipped off to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. After trying to explore other options and spending a year and a half in Edmonton, Alberta, I returned home and whilst looking for a job, the opportunity to be a Court Transcriptionist arose and I took it. Not wanting to remain stagnant, I attended school part-time and obtained a Law degree from the University of London, External programme. Being outdoors is my passion so I regularly hike, run and play cricket competitively, amongst other things.