When young French stenotypist Mlle Camille Palanque journeyed to England over 57 years ago, she could have had no idea how her work, and the work of others like her, would change the course of British justice. In May of this year a Government review concluded that, in most courts, the reporting of proceedings should […]
When young French stenotypist Mlle Camille Palanque journeyed to England over 57 years ago, she could have had no idea how her work, and the work of others like her, would change the course of British justice. In May of this year a Government review concluded that, in most courts, the reporting of proceedings should be thrown open to competitive tender by reporting firms. A system known as computer aided transcription, CAT, was to be optional but in a few courts it was made a priority. By the beginning of 1989 the Government expects half the rooms in the Old Bailey and Crown Courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, to have shorthand records transcribed by computer in a bid to speed up proceedings. By the end of that year it hopes to have the system installed in the remaining rooms. Camille, conversant in the French stenotype automated shorthand system, Grandjean, developed the forerunner to CAT. In 1939 she took out the British patent on her phonetic Palantype system which involves a palantypist using a 29 key machine to make entries on a roll of paper. Meanwhile Stenograph Corp, Chicago, had begun work on its own shorthand machine based on a 24 key keyboard. It works rather like a piano, the keys being pressed in groups similar to musical chords, each one representing a word or common phrase. Machine shorthand The keys print symbols on to paper, later to be deciphered and typed in English. Some years later in 1965 the National Physical Laboratory began exploratory discussions into computer aided transcription – the ability of computers to transcribe shorthand symbols recorded on paper – following work they had carried out on Russian and English dictionaries. 1960 saw the start of a three year feasability study which finally proved that although the theory was sound, CAT was not practicable as computers were still large and expensive. Ten years on Professor Alan Newell from Southampton University contacted Isla Beard from the then Palantype Organisation – it has since gone into liquidation – to ask for her help in the development of the system for use with the deaf. With the backing of the British Technology Group they were put in touch with Possum Controls of Slough, which made CAT what it is today. It wasn’t until March 1979 that the Government expressed an interest although a version of CAT had been in use by the deaf MP Jack Ashley for some time. A study headed by Edward Cass CB, OBE into verbatim court reporting recommended machine shorthand be encouraged since it would provide the skilled operators required if CAT came into general use. It saw the system as a serious alternative to other forms of reporting and called for trials as soon as possible. The pressures of the 1982 Supergrass trials forced Belfast Court to look for alternatives to traditional pen shorthand writers. It began looking at CAT and as a result has been running Stenograph- based systems from Oyez Services of London – the sole distributors for Stenograph Corp in Britain – for around three years. In Stenograph-based computer aided transcription a stenographer uses a version of the original Stenograph machine called a data writer. As well as the paper roll, it produces a digi-tised electronic image of the symbols on a magnetic tape cassette. Oyez supplied Belfast Crown Court with two systems, Cimarron 20 and 30. Cimarron 20 is based around DEC’s Professional 380 computer system, 20Mb Winchester, two 400Kb floppy disk drives, 512Kb of RAM on the J-11 processor, and has a choice of green, white or amber monitors. In addition a CAT-specific keyboard, software, five printer options – NEC P5XL, NEC 3510, NEC 8810, DEC LN03 laser printer and Texas Instruments TI 2015 laser printer – Stenograph Data Reader and on-site training are provided. This system is particularly good for multi-tasking and allows a print-out to be made while two other functions, such as editing or translating, are being performed. The Cimarron 30 system is similar but has 33Mb of hard disk storage. The magnetic tape from the data writer is read by the
data reader on to a Winchester disk from where the computer automatically translates the shorthand into English using its built-in dictionary. Stenographers compile their own dictionaries on magnetic tape which is then sent off to Stenograph Corp where the symbols are matched up to the corresponding English words and put on a floppy disk, later to be copied on to the Winchester. A basic dictionary can hold 17,000 words but can be updated to over 35,000 if a new word appears. To transcribe the shorthand symbols a stenographer accesses the correct dictionary file – five can be used simultaneously but the disk can hold any number of job dictionaries for specialist subjects like medicine or law – and symbols and English are married up and edited if necessary. Oyez has one other CAT system known as the Cimarron Spectrum based on DEC’s Professional 350 computer system which will perform background printing while doing one other function. Possum Controls now has a Palantype-based CAT system built around the 640Kb IBM AT with 30Mb Winchester. As with Stenograph’s data writer, Possum’s reporter unit can store from one to one and a half hours of information on its magnetic tape. In the US this technology has been around for nearly 15 years where they have a comparable number of companies producing CAT systems. One of them is Baron Data Systems of San Leandro, California, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Convergent Inc. It has two systems, one for up to three users with the IBM Personal or PS/2 as well as a networking version that can take between 15 and 20 users. The N-Gen from Convergent Technologies is the platform for the larger system and with 1Mb of memory and an expandable 40Mb disk, it can handle up to six workstations. Baron’s equivalent to the data writer and reporter units is Transcriptor X which uses a 3.5 microfloppy and can store up to 24 hours worth of information at a time. Inviting tenders In addition the Baron system has on-line transcription, something Stenograph is still working on and plans to have out by the year end. The N-Gen product is being pioneered in the UK with Smith Bernal Co Ltd, a firm of reporters from Esher, Surrey, who are appointment holders to the Knightsbridge courts. Their first Megacentre with one cluster and one individual workstation was due to be installed on the first of October. The Government will be inviting tenders in the last quarter of this year from 30 or so reporting firms across the country and as of June 1988 contracts will run for a period of five years. At present UKP8.5m a year is spent on court reporting and it doesn’t expect to have to spend any more to have the CAT technology at its disposal. The Cimarron 20 from Oyez is $28,000, the Cimarron 33 costs $35,400. The data writer is available for $2,770. In addition to its three complete CAT systems Oyez also has four editing systems. The dedicated Cimarron Editor made up of DEC’s Professional 350 personal computer with two 400Kb floppy disk drives performs the same functions as the CAT systems. For additional storage it has the Spectrum Turbo with 20Mb Winchester, system software and the Professional 350. Both the Cimarron 20 Turbo and 33 Turbo Editors offer multi-tasking capabilities. Baron Data’s Transcriptor X is selling for $2,995 and $9,990 will buy the Transcriptor, N-Gen computer, software and NEC Model T6 printer. Prices for Possum Controls CATs were unavailable.