Old Bailey Farewell to Stenographers

Think of the major criminal trials that have taken place in the Old Bailey since the beginning of the 20th Century: Dr Crippen, John Christie, Ruth Ellis, The Yorkshire Ripper, the Soham Murders…

In each and every case the cast list has included, along with judges, journalists, clerks, barristers, and curious members of the public, a man or woman sitting in the corner recording every word spoken.

Since 1907 they have noted the proceedings down by hand – either in shorthand or on a stenography machine – that is until 4.15pm on Friday, March 23, 2012.

For from Monday cases will be recorded digitally by machines in an attempt to cut costs.

The Old Bailey’s famous Courtroom No. 1 – the stenographers sat at the far left of this photo, on the same row as the judge. The jury sits on the left, the defendant in the dock on the near right and the barristers in the rows on the right. Below and in front of the judge sits the court clerk.

Judge John Bevan QC, sitting in the Old Bailey’s famous Court No. 1, marked the occasion with a short speech marking his regret at the change.

“This is the last day in which this court, which has been well served by stenographers and shorthand writers, is going to have their assistance.

“There is going to be a machine in future which, having been organised by the Ministry of Justice, will no doubt work perfectly.

“We deeply regret the stenographers will not be with us. They will be behind the scenes trying to make the system work. They will not be in court, which some of us might regard as a pity.”

The stenographers are being kept on one more week just in case the new digital system breaks down. After that they will be called on only if a transcription of the audio file is required by any of the legal teams involved.

Another victory for the machines. But that doesn’t mean anybody can capture proceedings using a digital recorder – their use is banned under the Contempt of Court Act.


Stenography and Charles Dickens – our blog piece when the news was announced.

For the record, stenographers put down their pens at the Old Bailey – Evening Standard

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  1. Just out of interest on reading the article on shorthandwriters leaving the Old Bailey
    I happened to be the shorthandwriter who was in court at the Old Bailey for the last capital murder trial in the 1960s before hanging was abolished when the jury came back at five to twelve midnight
    with a 6 – 6 decision indicating that they were not going to be the last jury to find a capital murder charge and to hang someone when the next day hanging was abolished. The court was packed out just before midnight to hear that verdict and you could hear a pin drop before the jury announced their verdict.