Women warned against going to court for fear of looking "bitter" as ‘Open Justice’ campaign launched

25 October 2023, 12:30 | Updated: 25 October 2023, 15:43

Claire Waxman says victims are being "misadvised" that they should not attend their trials
Claire Waxman says victims are being "misadvised" that they should not attend their trials. Picture: Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

Women have been warned against going to court by barristers and police over fears they could appear "vindictive and bitter " to a jury.

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Victims' Commissioner for London Claire Waxman says victims are being "misadvised" that they should not attend their trial after giving evidence - over fears the jury will scrutinise their behaviour.

She is calling for major reform to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, which she says is currently leaving victims "confused, distressed and unable to move on".

One woman who's 'abusive' ex-partner was charged with coercive control has told LBC she was "dissuaded" from attending the trial.

What's more, if she did, she would have been forced to sit next to his sister in the court room if she decided to go.

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

Charlotte, from Hackney in north London, said "the CPS and police often say the jury might be swayed, because they think you're scared of your perpetrator but then when you sit in the gallery, he or she can see you.

"If I did, I would have had to sit on a three person bench next to his sister, and potentially other members of his family, which isn't something I wanted to do".

Charlotte says she was then left feeling "hopeless and humiliated" when her ex was found not guilty. But when she tried to access court documents to explain what was said in the trial in her absence, and explain the decision, she found the transcript didn't exist.

Victims of rape and abuse have told LBC they've been quoted up to £22,000 to access a transcript of Crown Court cases which would help them understand the process and move on from the trauma, but in magistrates courts, transcripts are not routinely recorded.

Ms Waxman is calling for changes to the Victims and Prisoners Bill to make transcripts free to victims, as well as routine recording of magistrates court proceedings for the first time.

She also wants measures like a video link to be provided to victims so they can follow proceedings without the need to be there in person.

Ms Waxman told LBC: "Informal guidance is being given to victims, saying it's best they don't come back in to court because that it will look' vindictive and bitter' if they sit in the public gallery after giving evidence.

"Of course victims will take the lead of the criminal justice agency advising them because they don't know what's best to do.

"There is a safety risk and trauma involved with coming in to court, but they are not offered a video link to watch the trial remotely. And when they want to understand what happened in court, they are charged hundreds or even thousands for a transcript of proceedings.

"We need to make sure it's really clear to those supporting victims that they should be encouraged and have a right to attend the court case after they've given evidence, and they have a right to attend sentencing."

Ms Waxman says the Open Justice for Victims campaign aims to ensure reforms are made including training for justice agencies regarding a victim’s right to attend the trial, and greater awareness and provision of technology to enable virtual attendance of hearings.

She's also calling for juries to be given information about the rights of victims to attend a trial after giving evidence, victims to be able to access written or audio recordings of court proceedings free of charge, and for Magistrate Court cases to be recorded.

LBC has contacted the National Police Chiefs Council for comment.

The Crown Prosecution Service said: "Victims have a right to choose whether to attend the rest of a trial after they have given evidence and there is no CPS policy to advise them otherwise."