In the UK, individuals charged with a crime have a right to a fair and public trial. But victims of crime are not granted the same dispensation unless they can spend thousands of pounds. Why? Because victims do not have a right to a free transcript of the criminal trial.

Julia Jensen

Julia Jensen

You may think, ‘surely victims can watch the trial they are a part of?’, but in England and Wales, victims are often told they cannot watch the trial and they are only actually present in court to give evidence and undergo cross-examination. Victims then wait to be told the verdict.

A member of the public could watch the whole trial for free while victims, for example of sexual crimes, have been quoted up to £22,000 for a transcript to know what happened. That is about 24,444 pints of milk (10,476 litres of oat milk), or the price of a Renault Clio.

Putting aside the fact that many people do not have thousands of pounds floating around, the fact that the burden for payment rests on the victim’s shoulders is incongruous. Victims are not expected to pay for the police investigation, witness costs, or anything else to facilitate justice. Why would they suddenly have to pay for a transcript of the trial that they have not been permitted to watch?

A transcript tells victims what happened at the trial they were not allowed to attend. This:

(1)     offers a victim validation and closure in the event of a guilty verdict; or

(2)    if there is a not-guilty verdict, enables the victim to read what happened to try and process the outcome properly; and

(3)    allows the victim to decide on possible appeals or complaints.

I have used the word ‘victim’ intentionally. In my work as a solicitor for victims of abuse in civil claims for compensation, many of my clients have gone or are going through the criminal process. They find it agonising. At every stage, the victim has been at the mercy of someone else: the perpetrator, police, CPS, trial barristers, judges, and jury. Victims of violent and sexual crimes in particular have had their lives upturned, their privacy and sense of self violated by the crime(s) and, often, the criminal and judicial processes. Victims face serious impacts that can last their entire lives, affecting social and intimate relationships, employment and education access, physical and mental health, substance use, and financial solvency. Not all victims of crime receive compensation through a civil claim, or even through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, so the criminal process is the only legal route to justice. Any funds survivors have should be available for them to rebuild their lives. Spending money on costly transcripts diminishes their recovery resources.

When a transcript is requested, victims can apply for help with costs using Form EX105. A judge then decides if the victim is entitled to a transcript, and if this is to be at reduced cost, or at no cost. As legal practitioners, we can understand how difficult things can be for lay persons navigating procedure in order to make applications to the court, let alone how variable decisions can be from one judge to the next. Thus there are significant barriers to a victim’s understanding of the criminal trial.

As a legal practitioner, I know you will be thinking about the costs, particularly ever-diminishing resources allocated to the judiciary. The government, too, has been focusing on the resource issue.

With a general election looming, it is important to review not only the new ideas being proposed by political parties and candidates, but also missed opportunities from recent years. Where have lawmakers failed that the next government could make progress? Two words: free transcripts.

In 2023, victims proposed an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill that would entitle survivors to a free transcript of the criminal trial. While the bill received royal assent on 24 May and is now law, lawmakers rejected the proposal for victims to have a right to a free transcript. During the House of Lords debate on the proposal in April, discussion largely surrounded the practicalities (costs) of producing the transcripts rather than the principle of victims’ access to open justice. However, it should be noted that the current costs issue for transcripts may be linked to the prices set by private, profit-making companies which are contracted for transcription services. To date, the solution has been to outsource the resource problem to victims of crime, who do not get to choose which contracts are made for transcription providers.

It was stated that the technology is not ready to meet the potential demand for transcripts should parliament legislate. But parliament has passed the Online Safety Act, which concerns arguably much more complex technologies. Transcriptions are regularly completed by Grade D fee-earners, Zoom and Microsoft Teams programs, and Microsoft Word dictate function. Subtitles exist for most television and video platforms. The technology may not be in place, but there are actionable pathways.

It may be tempting to minimise the significance of the proposed amendment to make this about government resources, but I would argue that misses a bigger picture. The reality is that when victims of crime have to spend thousands of pounds on a transcript, that is thousands of pounds that they can no longer use for things like mental health treatment or substance misuse treatment. This means victims may not access timely treatment which in turn can lead to an increase in mental and physical health crises, A&E attendances, and even victims living with entirely untreated mental health conditions. People can be left unable to work or struggling with addiction, with a resource-draining knock-on effect for the NHS and social services.

It is time lawmakers did right by the victims of crime.


Julia Jensen is a solicitor in the abuse claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp