Our justice system will only improve if it learns from its mistakes.
But an unnecessary lack of transparency stops the justice system being held to account.
Trial transcripts cost tens of thousands of pounds, meaning innocent people can't afford to prove what went wrong at their trials.
Police and the Crown Prosecution Service shield themselves from scrutiny by denying innocent people access to their case files.
And too often, police won't allow access to evidence for new forensic science testing, or evidence is destroyed before it can be retested.
We're fighting for transparency through legal challenges and demanding reforms contained in the Open Justice Charter, developed by the Centre and published in the Justice Gap's Proof magazine.
Help make justice more transparent and accountable
Open Justice Charter
Guide: Finding summings up and case papers
If you or a family member has been convicted of a criminal offence and are now looking to appeal your conviction and/or sentence, you or your lawyer will need access to the summing up and case papers from your trial.
Here is a brief guide of where to look and who to ask for your summing up and other case papers. It should be read together with the flow chart and the template letters attached.
- Remember that most law firms, barristers chambers and the private transcription companies will destroy records after seven years if not sooner. It is imperative very important that you retrieve all your legal papers before seven years have elapsed.
- You may want to consider asking a family member or supporter to be your Case File Guardian. This person can help you retrieve and store all of your original papers to make sure that nothing gets lost.
- Do NOT EVER send original case papers to lawyers who have not agreed to represent you, only send copies.
Trial legal representatives
Your trial solicitors should have a copy of your case papers and may also have requested a transcript of the judge’s summing up before advising you on the merits of an appeal.
You are entitled to a copy of your case papers, including the correspondence file and billing information although they may charge you with an administrative fee for the costs of retrieving your papers. You can request the papers by writing directly to the solicitors. See template letter 1 (click to download).
If the solicitors do not respond to your request within fourteen days, you should then write a second letter informing them that you will be contacting the Legal Ombudsman if they fail to respond to your request for your case papers. See template letter 2 (click to download).
If the solicitors fail to respond to your second letter, you can then file a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman. You may also wish to file a complaint with the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority.
Your trial barrister may also have a copy of your case papers and a transcript of your summing up. Again, you can write to the barrister to ask him or her to send you a copy of your papers. See template letter 1 (click to download).
Appeal solicitor & barrister
Following your trial, you may have instructed another firm of solicitors or another barrister to handle your appeal to the Court of Appeal. These lawyers may also have requested a transcript of the judge’s summing up. You are entitled to a copy of all the case papers, the correspondence and the billing information. They too may charge you an administrative fee for the retrieving this information.
When requesting the file from your appeal representatives, you will need to follow the same process outlined above for retrieving your case papers from your trial legal representatives at trial. First, write a letter requesting a copy of your case papers. See template letter 1 (click to download). If they do not respond to your letter, you can write a second letter informing them that you will be approaching the Legal Ombudsman if they do not respond to your request for your case papers. See template letter 2 (click to download). If they still do not respond to your case papers then you can file a complaint with the Legal Ombudsman, the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (if it is a solicitors firm) or the Bar Standards Board (if it is a barrister).
Court of Appeal
If your case has been reviewed by the Court of Appeal, the Registrar of the Court of Appeal Criminal Divisiony may have a transcript of your summing up. You can request a copy of your summing up only if you have first asked your legal representatives for a copy. If they have either not responded to your request or if they have destroyed your case file, then you can approach the Court of Appeal. See template letter 3 (click to download).
Private transcription companies
If your trial lawyers told you that there was no merit in appealing your conviction and sentence, the chances are that a transcript of your summing up and sentencing remarks have not yet been ordered.
You will first need to contact the trial court and if you give them the year of your trial, they will tell you the contact details for the transcription company. You can then contact the transcription company who will give you a quotation for the cost of transcribing the summing up and sentencing remarks. Unfortunately, transcription rates are very expensive and it may cost £1000-£2000 for the transcript.
If you have a lawyer assisting you under legal aid, they can apply to the Legal Aid Agency to cover transcription costs. If you do not have a lawyer, we suggest you try and find one who can apply to the Legal Aid Agency for funding to pay for the transcription.
Private transcription companies usually keep the transcript recordings of the trial for up to seven years before it is destroyed. If they have already transcribed the summing up, then you can order a copy of the transcript for around £50 - £150.
If you cannot find legal representation and cannot afford the cost of a full transcript, you can request a copy of the audio recording of portions of the trial from the transcription company. The audio recording is usually much cheaper than the cost of transcription. Alternately, you could apply to the Criminal Case Review Commission.
Criminal Case Review Commission
If you cannot find or afford your summing up, then you could consider writing to the Criminal Case Review Commission with an explanation as to why your summing up is relevant.
If your case has been reviewed by the Criminal Case Review Commission, then it is possible that they would have ordered a transcript of your summing up and the Judge’s sentencing remarks. You can request a copy of the summing up and other case papers by writing to the Criminal Case Review Commission.
If you have already applied to the Criminal Case Review Commission, then they may have a copy of your summing up. See template 4 (click to download).
Court of Appeal
Criminal Appeal Office, The Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2L
Solicitor Regulation Authority
The Cube, 199 Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RN
Criminal Case Review Commission
5 St Philip’s Place, Birmingham, B3 2PW
PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ
Bar Standards Board
Bar Standards Board, 289-293 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7HZ