New legislation will support vulnerable witnesses

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Charities have welcomed a new law which means witnesses will be able to pre-record evidence

13th May 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Charities have welcomed new legislation to support vulnerable witnesses.

A bill to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of jury trials has been passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to minimise distress and improve the quality of evidence given as it will be recorded at an earlier stage in proceedings for the most serious offences. Once in place, the changes are expected to benefit hundreds of children each year.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “This is a milestone in Scotland’s journey to protect children as they interact with the justice system, and a key part of our wider work to strengthen support for victims and witnesses.

“Children who have witnessed the most traumatic crimes must be able to start on the path to recovery at the earliest possible stage and these changes will allow that, improving the experiences of the most vulnerable child witnesses, as far fewer will have to give evidence in front of a jury.”

Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, welcomed the legislation.

She said: “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.”

During the debate, Denham announced additional funding for Children 1st to fund participation and children’s rights workers who will ensure the voice of children informs the government’s approach to justice.

Mary Glasgow, chief executive of Children 1st, said: “This legislation will help to drive a transformative shift in how Scotland’s justice system treats children. The passage of the bill has been pivotal in uniting the Scottish Government and Parliament around the vision that when children speak out justice is done quickly and fairly and children are supported to recover from distressing and traumatic experiences. 

“The cross-party recognition that this is best achieved by developing a Scottish Barnahus or Child’s House is a tremendous step forward. Children 1st welcome the commitment and funding from the Scottish Government to support children’s voices to drive this change and transform the system for every child witness in Scotland.”