The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill is passed
Today (10 May 2019) legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of a jury trial, preventing the traumatic experience of presenting in court.
Previously, the measures to protect children and other vulnerable witnesses at court were not seen as inadequate. The lead-up to a trial and the court process itself, particularly lengthy cross-examinations, are often stressful for children and vulnerable witnesses and can be re-traumatising.
Furthermore, stress and time have been shown to decrease recall, especially in child and vulnerable witnesses. A properly conducted witness interview before a trial will be far more helpful to justice than a belated appearance at court.
As such, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve the quality of evidence given for the most serious offences.
Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:
“We welcome the passing of this Bill, which we believe is a crucial step forward in protecting and supporting children and families who have been involved in serious crime. It is well known – as we have seen through our own Witness Services from throughout Scotland – that the process of giving evidence in criminal trials can have adverse mental, physical and psychological effects on child witnesses.
“Victim Support Scotland agrees moving to pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses is one way of avoiding such trauma. Further to this, we believe that this should elicit better evidence from victims and witnesses of crime and outcomes for everyone involved in the justice sector.
“We are also heartened by the £2 million funding which the Scottish Government has committed to enabling the creation of a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow, as well as upgrades to support facilities in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Victim Support Scotland is looking forward to supporting this initiative on the ground as part of putting victims and witnesses first in Scotland’s criminal justice system.”