The Curious Case of the ‘Undecipherable’ Shorthand

We learned a few weeks back how the Australian Broadcast Corporation journalist Louise Milligan has been ordered by a court to make her notes about Cardinal George Pell ‘decipherable and usable’ to Pell’s committal hearing before Melbourne magistrates court.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the material for Milligan’s book about Pell was subpoenaed by his lawyers as part of his defence against historical sexual offence charges.

“But Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC,” we learn from the Guardian, “told the court… that the notes made by Milligan to write her book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell – which was awarded the 2017 Walkley book the year prize – were all in shorthand.”

And not just that, but the notes concerned have been “Milligan’s ‘own style of shorthand'” and therefore “could not be translated by Pell’s defence team”.

This is intriguing.

Milligan is a very experienced and well regarded journalist who has worked as both a state political reporter and as a former High Court correspondent for The Australian.

She has supplied about 100 pages of shorthand notes to the court. And now faces the prospect of having to transcribe them verbally to tape for the court.

So I am left wondering what type of shorthand she has been using and how they have ended up being described as undecipherable?

Alas, she has not responded to my question about her chosen shorthand system. But chances are, Millgan, like many journalists, has adapted a staple shorthand system – most likely Teeline, Pitman or Pitman 2000 in Australia – slightly to her own uses – using single letters perhaps to denote people and places that will make sense to her. All the more so, perhaps, given the nature of her investigative work.

But surely that would not render the bulk of her note “undecipherable”.  I note she herself has said providing the notes had taken a considerable amount of time and how she has “not, at any time, given any material which would identify a confidential source to the defence or court.”

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