Victims of violent and sexual crimes are calling for a reduction in court transcript costs, which they have described as “unaffordable.”
They informed BBC Newsnight that charging them thousands of pounds for copies of court proceedings is exploitative. One survivor of rape revealed that she was quoted £7,500 for a transcript of her trial.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has responded by saying that victims have the option to request a judge to order a transcript at public expense. However, transcripts are not routinely provided for all cases. According to a MoJ spokesperson, if the request is declined, the fee covers the considerable expenses associated with transcribing potentially weeks’ worth of hearings from audio recordings.
Juliana, who was a victim of rape in 2020, faced this issue first-hand. Her former partner was convicted by a jury at a ten-day trial. When she sought a free copy of the trial transcript to revisit what had been said in court, her request was denied. She was informed that provisions for free transcripts were typically made in exceptional circumstances, such as murder and manslaughter cases, and those circumstances did not apply to her situation.
Instead, Juliana was directed to contact one of the companies outsourced by the government to provide transcripts. Acolad UK Limited quoted her £7,459 for the transcription, which she found unaffordable and mentally distressing. Juliana questioned why she had to pay for a service containing information about her own case.
According to the government’s website, crown court and civil and family court hearings are recorded, and anyone can apply for a transcript. However, victims are usually required to pay for the transcript, unless there are special circumstances. The final cost depends on factors such as the size of the transcription, whether it’s a new or copy, and other variables.
The court transcription service in the UK is outsourced to six companies under a contract worth more than £17 million. BBC Newsnight discovered that transcription costs at these government-contracted firms varied from 80p per 72 words to £1.71 for a 12-working-day transcription.
Acolad UK Limited explained that their pricing depends on the volume of material to be transcribed, the level of urgency, and other factors. They also noted that the sensitivity of legal proceedings limits the use of AI-assisted tools, with human expertise prioritised.
Victims of crime have highlighted the difficulty and trauma they experience in understanding court proceedings, often relying on transcripts to review evidence and statements after cases conclude.
The government offers free copies of a judge’s sentencing remarks to families in murder cases following a conviction. However, some victims like Claire, whose ex-partner attempted to kill her, were quoted hundreds of pounds for a transcript of the judge’s sentencing remarks. Claire eventually obtained the transcript for free because it had already been requested and paid for, which is standard procedure with all the companies.
Victims and advocates argue that the costs associated with obtaining transcripts are prohibitively high, and they deserve access to affordable options for closure and understanding.
Claire Waxman, London’s Victims’ Commissioner, has called for urgent changes to the current system, emphasising the need for victims to access accurate and cost-free transcripts to support their understanding and recovery as part of their justice journey. The Ministry of Justice contends that it is “incredibly rare for a victim to request a transcript of an entire trial” and that requesting the judge’s sentencing remarks typically costs about £40.