Quebec court system digitizes audio case files

Audio records of Quebec court cases will be stored and retrieved more efficiently now that the province’s Justice Department has installed a digital voice recording system that its manufacturer says is the largest such installation


The system will record proceedings from 420 courtrooms in 48 courthouses across the province, keeping digital audio records locally as well as in a central repository. Recordings will be available at any courthouse in the system, said Normand Laberge, the department’s chief information officer.

Soon, Laberge added, the department will even be able to respond to requests for audio files by sending the digital recordings over the Internet. That part of the system isn’t in place yet, so for now recordings must still be requested in person at a courthouse.

The province-wide system replaces a mixture of audio-recording equipment, ranging from simple cassette tape recorders in smaller courthouses to tape-based integrated recording systems capable of making multiple copies at once in the larger courthouses. Laberge said the cassette recorders used in smaller courthouses sometimes broke down, causing delays while another machine was found. The larger integrated systems were installed about 25 years ago and service was no longer available, he added.

And when someone requested a copy, the tape had to be physically copied, a time-consuming process. Now copies can be produced “within seconds,” said Laberge.

The CourtLog system comes from Novo Technologies, a Levis, Que.-based maker of digital audio recording systems for emergency services, call centres and the justice system.

It records audio first to a server in the courthouse where the proceedings take place, and then uploads a copy to a central archive soon afterward, Laberge said. The central server will be used for long-term storage, since audio records of court proceedings must be kept for years. An additional copy is placed in a vault for backup, he added.

Another advantage of the digital system is that it lets court clerks annotate the recordings, adding information such as the names of the judge and lawyers in the case, and pointers to particular segments of the proceedings. For instance, explained Louis Turmel, chief executive of Novo, a clerk could insert a note indicating when each witness begins testifying, so that someone reviewing the recording later could go directly to the relevant section. Such notes can be added during recording or afterward, he noted.

Turmel said CourtLog also allows copies of electronic documents to be attached to the audio files. Any document format readable on a Windows machine can be attached, he said. 

Laberge said he tried out the CourtLog system during a high-profile trial of Hell’s Angels members in Montreal in 2001-02. A special courthouse was built for the trial, and the Justice Department installed CourtLog and used it to record the trial. “It was sort of a pilot project, which sort of confirmed that we had to go that route,” Laberge said.

After the pilot, the department invited bids to provide a digital audio recording system for all of its courthouses, and Novo won the contract. Work began on the installation early in 2004, and the system is now operating in all the province’s courthouses, although one large courthouse in Montreal has some courtrooms still to be hooked up.

Turmel said 10-year-old Novo started off providing digital voice recording for emergency services, such as 911 emergency systems and police forces. The company expanded first into call centres, and around 1998 into providing courtroom systems. That came about after an employee appeared in court to fight a traffic ticket and spotted a potential market, he said.

Novo’s system is also used in some other facilities in Quebec, such as rental dispute tribunals, and Nova Scotia and Manitoba are both planning to install it in their courtrooms this year, according to Turmel.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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