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'If Scotland can do it, why can't we?': Rape survivors accuse Govt of ignoring pleas to scrap court transcript bills

1 March 2024, 09:27

Rape survivor Ellie Wilson, 26, from Edinburgh, whose attacker was jailed for five years, had to crowdfund £3,000 to access the transcripts
Rape survivor Ellie Wilson, 26, from Edinburgh, whose attacker was jailed for five years, had to crowdfund £3,000 to access the transcripts. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Alan Zycinski

Rape survivors are accusing the Government of ignoring their pleas to scrap "eye watering" bills for transcripts of their own Crown Court cases.

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The documents can provide a full written record of everything said throughout hearings, which victims of sexual assault often don't hear in person because they are too traumatised to attend, or discouraged from going.

They've reported being priced out of understanding how verdicts were reached with the cost of fully transcribing audio recordings quoted as high as £22,000.

From today in Scotland, a year long pilot project will see the Scottish Government pick up those costs instead of High Court complainers.

Rape survivor Ellie Wilson, 26, from Edinburgh, whose attacker was jailed for five years, had to crowdfund £3,000 to access the transcripts needed to lodge a complaint about what she felt were personal attacks against her said in the courtroom.

Rape survivor Ellie Wilson
Rape survivor Ellie Wilson. Picture: Handout

She told LBC: "I knew that I really needed my transcript to make this complaint so I did turn to crowdfunding to raise those funds.

"It's inhumane and humiliating and frankly I think it's completely unacceptable in a modern day democracy that such huge financial barriers can be put in the way of justice.

"I just felt in complete despair, the system from start to finish is so traumatic for victims. It was obviously from that trauma that I did start to campaign for free court transcripts, but I don't understand why it's taken so long to get this far.

"I really do welcome it (the pilot project) but I do think that it needs to be permanent, it's only a year long pilot with limited funding, and I do think it should be extended to other crime types particularly for other gender based violence crimes like domestic violence.

"I think it's vital we see this happen across the UK. Again, I think its antithetical to democracy that we are actually putting up financial barriers to people accessing these vital documents."

From today in Scotland, a year long pilot project will see the Scottish Government pick up those costs instead of High Court complainers.
From today in Scotland, a year long pilot project will see the Scottish Government pick up those costs instead of High Court complainers. Picture: Alamy

The policy allows for complainers to apply for full transcripts - not just sentencing remarks - if their case was heard after 2007 when digital recording began in Scotland.

It means Hannah Stakes, 33, from Glasgow, will finally have access to hers more than five years on from her rape case which resulted in a not proven verdict.

She told LBC: "It's my information, it belongs to me, I see it as helpful for the healing process. They contain the stories of our lives, our trauma, our most personal information. It should just be a basic fundamental right to read that and look at it if you want them.

"I originally wanted them because I was considering going to civil trial but I wanted to read the transcripts to make that decision. But I wasn't even able to sit and read them because I was quoted thousands and thousands of pounds.

"Some of the things that were said in trial were so ridiculous that I would like to be able to evidence them. The documents are a copy of the truth, the truth without an agenda, it proves everything we say about the system being broken.

"I personally didn't have them at the time I needed them to heal effectively. But what's more important now is that other people (in Scotland) aren't going to find themselves in that situation.

Campaigners from the Open Justice For All group in England and Wales are now hoping this move from Holyrood ministers increases pressure on their UK counterparts to bring in a similar policy.

They also want changes to the process in Magistrates Courts where some hearings aren't even audio recorded - making transcriptions impossible.

Charlotte from Hackney in north London's ex-partner was charged with coercive control and she was dissuaded from attending his trial.

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She told LBC: "You want to know what was said in court, but at the moment you have the police and the CPS advising you not to sit in the rest of the trial after you've given evidence, so you often have no idea what happened. There was no way of me finding out without court transcripts.

"The day that I got the non guilty verdict, I tried to kill myself that evening. I just so felt at a loss and so out of control, I didn't know what I could do.

"When I then tried to gather the pieces together to understand what happened and to find out why and how that could've happened. Being told that's not possible, you just feel absolutely out of control, you feel like the least person that matters again, when the trial is about you.

"I mean I'm so happy for all of the people in Scotland who are able to apply for their transcripts and are able to have that information that they should have. It gives me a bit of hope thinking that if if our Scottish neighbours can do it then why can't England do it?

"We've been calling for the Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk to meet with us. We want to sit around a table and tell him what the reality is. But he does not ever respond to anything that we say. He needs to listen to the victims and survivors who are making really good suggestions on how they can improve things for them".

We understand other ministers have responded to campaigners on the Justice Secretary's behalf.

And a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "It is vital victims get the support and information they need as they attempt to rebuild their lives and move on, which is why we’ve already announced a new pilot scheme that will enable victims of rape and other serious sexual offences in England and Wales to request a copy of the judge’s sentencing remarks free of charge.

“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 transcriptions."

Those feeling distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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