Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Rishi Sunak Accused of Lying Over Cost of Justice – as Victims Made to Pay Thousands to Access Vital Court Records

Victims speak to Byline Times as some are forced to cough up thousands of pounds to access their abusers’ trial transcripts

Sally Challen killed 61-year-old Richard in August 2010 after years of being controlled and humiliated by him. Her son David Challen campaigned successfully for her freedom. But the family has been quoted over £1,200 just to read the court transcript. Photo: Tommy London / Alamy Stock Photo

Don’t miss a story

Sign up to the Behind the Headlines newsletter (and get a free copy of Byline Times in the post)

The son of a domestic abuse victim who killed her abusive husband in 2010 (the conviction was later overturned) has accused the PM of lying after claiming families of homicide victims get free transcripts of court proceedings. 

In England and Wales, victims of crimes and their families are currently asked to pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds to private companies for transcripts of court hearings that relate to them. 

The Open Justice for All campaign says this “impossible cost of closure is not one that many victims cannot afford to pay — especially given how traumatic stress can impact a victim’s ability to go to work and focus.” 


“Traumatic” Experience

David Challen, now a campaigner on domestic violence, has been refused free access to court transcripts for his mother’s successful appeal against her 2011 conviction for murdering her husband. 

David Challen has been quoted fees of £1,200 to read his 2019 appeal hearing that cleared his mother of killing her husband. She was freed on grounds of diminished responsibility due to the abuse she faced. 

But responding to a question from Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney at PMQs on Wednesday, PM Rishi Sunak told MPs on Wednesday: “We already offer a free service to families of homicide victims” to access court transcripts. 

David told Byline Times: “The Prime Minister lied in PMQ’s when questioned about court transcripts…Here I am, the family of a homicide victim being denied a free service that should be available at no cost not only for myself, but for all victims of crime.”

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE? HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

The London-based campaigner says the lack of access to vital court documents has held back his recovery journey in processing what he and his family went through. 

On 11 December 2023, David Challen’s request for a transcript of the 2019 appeal – part of his therapeutic recovery – was refused, with the registrar saying:  “The transcribers will charge a fee for providing it. There are many pressures on public funding at present. Having considered your request, Lord Justice Holroyde has concluded it would not be an appropriate use of public money for that fee now to be paid from public funds. Your request has therefore been refused.”

David says the high costs he and other victims face are “traumatic”. “As victims of crime these are our stories, our lived experiences and we deserve a right to read and come to terms with them. Paying for that service is borderline state sanctioned abuse.”

Letter from the court rejecting David Challen’s request for a free court transcript (Dec 2023)

After asking for the Judge to reconsider, Challen was told by the court that even to listen to a recording of proceedings would “involve being present in a courtroom at the [Royal Courts of Justice], which can only be done under supervision. It follows that this request will require a court official to be present whilst you listen to the whole of a recording of a hearing which occupied all or most of two court days.”

The court official added: “Lord Justice Holroyde remains sympathetic to your position, but does not believe that is an appropriate use of the limited staff resources of the court.”

He has also been told that the original trial recording from 2011, which put his mother behind bars, was “destroyed” – “yet I was not informed there was a time limit.” 

Despite the Prime Minister’s claims about free transcripts, there appears to be nothing about free transcripts being provided for the families of homicide victims on the official Government information page, or in either of the necessary application forms. 

The five-page form to request extraordinary waiver to receive a transcript “at public expense” requires applicants to set out their monthly expenses. 

The Government’s forms requesting a waiver of transcription fees ask for a full breakdown of the applicant’s monthly expenses (Byline Times screengrab)

David Challen added: “The exploitative system that bars our therapeutic means of recovery is a dark ages practice that needs to be abolished. As victims of crime these are our stories, our lived experiences and we deserve a right to read and come to terms with them. Paying for that service is borderline state sanctioned abuse.”


“A Mockery of Justice”

Survivor Juliana Terlizzi has been campaigning to get the law changed and secure ‘real open justice’. Photo: Supplied

In 2020, 36-year-old Juliana Terlizzi was drugged and raped by then-boyfriend, Hubert Greliak, 35. She has waived her anonymity to speak about her experience of the justice system. 

The trial of her rapist took nearly two years to get to court, as the Mirror reported.‌ Finally, in 2022, Greliak was found guilty at Isleworth Crown Court of rape and assault by penetration, and jailed for over 13 years).

But Juliana was then told by the court that a transcript of her ten-day trial would cost £7,459.20, despite reading it being recommended by her therapist. 

 “It just feels like a mockery. It feels like they don’t care about us. We [the victims] are always an afterthought.” She described her experience of the justice system as “horrific”. 

“If transcripts are free in Brazil, a developing country where I’m from, why can’t we do it here?,” the survivor and campaigner told Byline Times.

In Scotland, victims in rape and serious sexual assault cases now have access to transcripts from their court cases free of charge, under a year-long trial. 

The Next Big Injustice Scandal? Allegations of ‘Blood on Government’s Hands’ as Thousands of Prisoners Remain Locked Up Despite Serving Time

These are enough people still locked up who’ve served their sentences to fill four UK prisons, according to new figures


Charlotte’s Case

Charlotte, whose identity is being protected as her alleged abuser was found not guilty, was discouraged by police from attending the full magistrates case last year, aside from giving evidence. 

After the case fell, however, she was told there were no records available for the court hearings. 

“I had requested a live link to give my evidence from another room in the court. And that was declined. So basically, I was told: you have to come to give evidence, and then you can’t see the rest of the trial, or hear the rest of the trial. And when he was found not guilty, I obviously wanted to understand why or what happened, what was said and all of that… 

“For me to really understand and be able to move on and let go of all the things that kind of happened, I really wanted to know what was said,” Charlotte told Byline Times.

Notes from a barrister for the CPS, which were eventually shared with her, revealed that the judge suggested she was an unreliable witness “because I waited eight months to report the crime: the crime being a [multiple] year sexually, physically, mentally abusive relationship. 

“And the second thing she said was, ‘you clearly spoke to other victims of domestic abuse, so you knew exactly what to say’.”

Charlotte wanted to hold the judge to account for these apparent sexist remarks. “But of course, the only way to put a complaint in is: you need your transcripts, you need proof that that was what was said. So when I found out that a Magistrates Court is not actually recorded, that was really upsetting.” 

She spoke to other victims and helped develop the Open Justice campaign. “It’s about me talking about the most intimate and horrific period of my life. Why can I not have the information about that?”

Another case, reported by The Times involved ‘Lily’, a child abuse and rape survivor, whose mother was quoted £6,534 for trial transcripts, eventually crowdfunding £1,428.90 for a partial transcript. Other victims have reportedly been quoted fees up to £22,000.

New Charity Launched to Tackle Abuse by the Press as Government Starts to Repeal Leveson Inquiry Law

Campaigners say press standards have barely improved with newspapers still allowed to mark their own homework


‘Dragging their Feet’

After speaking to constituents affected by the scandal, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, Sarah Olney, introduced a Commons amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill in November, urging the Government to waive transcript fees for victims of sexual violence, a move supported across party lines. 

Despite this, the amendment was not selected for a vote by the Speaker and was not included into the legislation.  

Instead, the Government has proposed a one-year pilot to provide victims of rape and other serious sexual offences with the judge’s sentencing remarks for free. Critics say the measure falls short as it excludes non-guilty verdicts and any of the rest of the trial process, unlike the scheme in Scotland. 

An open letter backing the campaign has been co-signed by 41 others include the CEO’s of Refuge, Rape Crisis UK, Women’s Aid and SAMM, as well as Cherie Booth CBE KC, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, and the Mother and Father of the House of Commons. 

The letter repeated the ask in the amendment which would ‘Make provisions in the Victims’ Bill to enable victims and bereaved families to request to receive a court transcript free of charge’. 

The Victims and Prisoners Bill has now passed to the House of Lords, with the open justice amendment re-introduced by Baroness Brinton (Liberal Democrat). It is set for a vote on April 23. 

Neither Labour nor the Government have indicated they will support the free transcripts amendment yet, on cost grounds. The cost of transcripts, managed by private companies, remains a barrier due to the fact that the notes are taken by hand, and then digitised. 

However, there are now extensive, low-cost AI-powered transcription tools already on the market and being used by millions of people 

Making them freely available would cost around £5.3m a year, based on 2022 figures compiled by the House of Commons library. 

In 2017, Labour MP David Lammy said: “As part of the Government’s £1 billion court modernisation programme, all sentencing remarks in the Crown court should be published in audio and/or written form…This would build trust by making justice more transparent and comprehensible for victims, witnesses and offenders.” However, to date, Labour has not yet backed the amendment.

EXCLUSIVE

Rishi Sunak’s New Business Council ‘Riddled’ with Rule Breakers Totalling More Than £900m in Fines in a Decade

Sunak’s freshly minted Business Council, tasked with boosting the UK’s economy, includes corporations fined for offences from bribery to money laundering and environmental violations

Sarah Olney MP said: “No victim or bereaved family should be forced to pay thousands to access a court transcript, and it is clear our current system is failing to address this glaring inequality.

“Justice should not have a price tag, and I am so honoured to stand side-by-side with victims and bereaved families on this vitally important campaign.

“Cases like this are sadly all too common, and the Justice Secretary must hear our calls for change and accept amendments to the Victims’ Bill which will help reduce the cost of these transcripts for victims.

“It is high time the Government listened to victims and experts and finally made this much needed change.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson did not respond to our specific questions but told this newspaper: “It is vital victims get the support and information they need to rebuild their lives and move on. That is why we’ve announced a new pilot scheme that will enable victims of serious sexual offences to request a copy of the judge’s sentencing remarks free of charge – building on a provision already in place for families of homicide victims in cases of murder or manslaughter.

“While judges can already decide to provide a full or partial transcription to victims, this pilot will inform our next steps as we continue to look at all other options to reduce the costs of providing them.”

Subscribers Get More from JOSIAH

Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

So for more from him…


Written by

This article was filed under
, ,