Justice system keeping survivors 'in the dark' with thousand pound fees for court records

"They know the worst things that have happened to you... and you're going to have to pay £15,000 to find out what was said."

That's the scenario countless complainants are facing in the justice system and it's something campaign group Open Justice For All is working to change.

Charlotte, who has requested we not use her surname, took her former partner to court on charges of coercive control.

After she was cross-examined the 30-year-old says she was advised not to attend court further.

"They said to me that I probably shouldn't sit in the gallery and watch the rest of the trial because it wouldn't look good to the judge," she said.

"But they also said, even if you do, you have to sit in the public gallery," alongside her ex-partner's friends and family members.

Charlotte says she was told via a phone call that her ex had been found not guilty and given "no further explanation."

Afterwards she tried to find out what had happened by requesting a transcript. She was first told it would "cost you a lot of money" and then told that magistrates' courts don't actually record the trial to be able to provide transcripts.

"You are so powerless in the whole thing," Charlotte says, "and then when you say: 'Can I actually find out what was said about me?' And they tell you: 'Yes, sure, for £20,000'."

Statue of Justice stands on top of the Central Criminal Court building, Old Bailey, London. Credit: PA

The government has outsourced court transcription services to six companies in a contract reportedly worth more than £17m.

Those companies charge individuals per folio, that's 72 words. The cheapest is 80p per folio and the most expensive is £2.36 depending on the turnaround needed.

So a trial that lasts weeks or even months can rack up a substantial bill very quickly.

Charlotte says the other people involved in Open Justice For All have been quoted figures on average of £10,000 to £15,000 for full transcripts of their cases.

Another woman was quoted £20,000 for the full transcript and so is trying to negotiate to just access a "small amount" of the trial "so that she can see what's happened."

While one woman fundraised the fee "because she wanted to make a complaint," Charlotte says that "the rest have said 'no, I can't afford it."

Open Justice For All is working to get free access to crown court transcripts and wants magistrates' courts to start being recorded.

Credit: PA

Charlotte says the current system just furthers the trauma victim-survivors are already going through.

"In a crime such as rape or coercive control there's a lot of power dynamic in play already," she says, "so you are always being controlled and told what to do. And then when it comes to the justice system that is mirrored back to you yet again."

"All of the information and data that they hold, that they've spoken about to people, you're not allowed to see. So, yet again, we're in the dark and we're unable to understand because we don't know all of the things that are being said about us."

The campaign, spearheaded by the Victims Commissioner of London Claire Waxman, is calling for the issue to be addressed in the new Victims Bill which is currently making its way through parliament

"Open Justice is a term that the government throws around a lot, but it actually means nothing to victims," Ms Waxman says.

"I am myself a victim of rape and coercive control and when going through the system and specifically court - you are kept in the dark and you are always one step behind your perpetrator," Charlotte added.

"The entire trial is about us, but we have no idea what is being said. We don't know why the judge/jury made its decisions and if it gets to sentencing, why the sentencing has been decided. On top of that, if we want to make any complaints on how we were treated we need transcripts as proof."

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson told ITV News: "The government has quadrupled funding for victim services since 2010 and our new legislation will improve the information and support victims receive at every stage of the justice system."

They continued: "Judges may use their discretion to provide a full or partial transcription to victims. However, as court proceedings are not routinely transcribed, the transcription fee covers the considerable costs that come with writing up the audio recording of potentially weeks’ worth of hearings."

The MoJ said a judge's sentencing remarks, which summarises the case, typically cost around £45 to £60.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, help and advice can be found in the following places:


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