'How am I supposed to move on?': Rape and sexual abuse victims 'charged up to £22,000' for court documents

24 October 2023, 10:12 | Updated: 25 October 2023, 11:38

Some survivors of sex attacks are facing huge bills for paperwork from their court cases (File image)
Some survivors of sex attacks are facing huge bills for paperwork from their court cases (File image). Picture: Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

Ministers are under pressure to scrap "eye-watering" bills for court documents which help victims understand their own cases and move on from their trauma.

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Rape survivors have reported facing huge costs of up to £22,000 to access transcripts of hearings, which they often don't hear in person because they are too traumatised to attend court, or discouraged from going.

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, is pushing to change the law through the Victims Bill to allow victims to access the documents for free, after being contacted by a constituent who was quoted £7,500.

Juliana Terlizzi, who was drugged and raped by her ex-partner, attended her trial but told LBC she has "no memory" of what was said following the guilty verdict and his subsequent sentencing because she was "in shock"

"You're so nervous, and a person that has gone through trauma, your brain shuts down in a way to protect you", she told LBC.

Juliana Terlizzi
Juliana Terlizzi. Picture: Handout

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"I had no memory, my brain was mush. It's so many emotions and so many legal terms, I needed to have someone explain it to me.

"I wanted to have the transcript to know what was said. How am I supposed to heal and process what happened if I don't remember it?"

Juliana told LBC she has tried to rebuild her life after her rapist, Hubert Greliak, was jailed for 18 years, but she hasn't been able to return to work after being diagnosed with PTSD.

"I didn't feel safe to leave my house... I still couldn't work, I couldn't move on.

"My therapist said getting the transcripts might help me move on. It would help with my healing, it would help me understand what happened, but I can't afford this."

Sarah Olney MP, who has tabled an amendment to the Victims Bill, said "it beggars belief" that victims are being charged thousands of pounds "just to read what was said during a trial that impacts them so profoundly".

Ms Olney told LBC she was "astounded" to discover that victims are often "actively discouraged" from attending their trials, leaving them with "no means of finding out exactly what happened."

She said victims "have been told that they will distract the jury or influence their decision if they attend the trial."

Some also face the prospect of having to sit in the gallery with their abuser’s family, whilst others are too traumatised to attend.

Sarah Olney speaks to LBC

Ms Olney said: "Justice should not have a price tag. Yet currently victims like Juliana are being denied access to justice if they cannot afford to pay eye-watering fees.

"As most victims do not attend trial, a transcript of court proceedings is essential to provide clarity on how the verdict was reached and to aid victims’ recovery."

She accused the UK Government of failing victims, and urged the Justice Secretary to accept her amendment to enable all victims to request a transcript free of charge.

London Victim's Commissioner Claire Waxman, who is working with victims to campaign for the law change, told LBC they're facing costs of "between £7,000 - £22,000" to access transcripts, and find it "impossible" to move on without understanding what has happened during the court process.

She told LBC: "The Government and ministers talk all the time about how important open justice is for the public, to ensure people can see that justice has been done. But for victims and families bereaved by homicide, where the crime has impacted them directly, they're not seeing that.

"Even just the sentencing remarks can cost £300, which might not seem like a lot, but we've worked with a victim of attempted murder - she's lost her job as a result of her injuries, she's suffered massively because of this crime. To her it's just not affordable because she's lost her job and is on disability allowance.

If the amendment is not accepted, Ms Waxman says the government should commit at least to making sentencing remarks free, whilst Ms Olney believes the UK government must match a commitment by the Scottish Government to introduce a pilot scheme to waive court transcript fees for victims of sexual violence.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "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.

“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.”

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