Stop crime victims in England and Wales paying thousands for court transcripts, say MPs | Crime

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MPs from across the political spectrum have urged the government to remove a “barrier to justice” that sees crime victims in England and Wales forced to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds for transcripts of court proceedings.

Under the current system, those affected by crime – including the most serious sexual and violent offences – can face steep fees if they want to obtain written records from cases they were involved in.

Juliana Terlizzi, a victim of rape who waived her right to anonymity, said she was quoted £7,500 for a transcript from a 10-day crown court trial that resulted in the man who attacked and drugged her being jailed for 15 years. In other cases, the admin charges are reported to have been as high as £22,000.

This weekend, before a vote in the Lords next week on scrapping the fees, 31 MPs including Tory backbencher Sir Peter Bottomley and Labour MPs Stella Creasy and John McDonnell, wrote to justice secretary Alex Chalk calling for provisions in the victims’ bill to ensure victims are able to access court transcripts free of charge.

In a letter coordinated by Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney, they said victims often did not attend trial and that some were actively discouraged from doing so.

“Without a transcript of court proceedings, victims are unable to find out exactly what happened during the trial, which can make it very difficult for them to come to terms with how the verdict was reached,” they wrote.

They said existing provisions “such as providing a transcript at the judge’s discretion or publishing sentence remarks in certain cases”, were “insufficient or unaffordable”, adding this was not only a “barrier to justice” but a “major barrier to victims’ recovery”.

The call to scrap the fees comes before a critical vote in the Lords on Tuesday on an amendment, tabled by the Lib Dems, that would allow all crime victims to request a transcript of the court’s summing up and sentencing remarks.

Sentencing transcripts are now charged at about £1.20 for 72 words, according to estimates calculated by the House of Commons library. The research suggests it would cost only about £3.7m a year to make transcripts available for all crown court trials and sentencing hearings.

Asked about the issue at PMQs on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said there was already a “free service” for the families of homicide victims, and that the government was “actively looking” at options to “immediately reduce the costs”. His response was called a “slap in the face” by Terlizzi, who said the comments were “empty words”.

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A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said it had announced a pilot scheme enabling victims of serious sexual offences to request a free copy of sentencing remarks. The Lib Dems said this was limited in scope, did not include the judge’s summing up, did not cover all victims, and only applied to cases with guilty verdicts.

The MoJ said the pilot would inform its next steps and that it was looking at “all other options” to reduce the cost of providing transcripts. “It is vital victims get the support and information they need to rebuild their lives and move on,” the spokesperson said.

The open letter – co-signed by the Centre for Women’s Justice; Support after Murder and Manslaughter; Women’s Aid; and Refuge – said action was overdue, adding that campaigners had “long been calling” for measures to “address this injustice” but that “no progress” had yet been made.

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