Improving support for child and vulnerable witnesses in justice system.
Legislation to enable the greater use of pre-recording of evidence by child and vulnerable witnesses has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill would create a new rule that children who are due to give evidence in the most serious criminal cases should have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of trial.
The Bill proposes other improvements such as a simplified process for deemed vulnerable witnesses to request standard special measures such as giving evidence via a live TV link away from the courtroom during the trial.
It also includes a power to enable extension of the new rule to adult witnesses deemed to be vulnerable under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. This covers complainers of sexual offences, stalking, domestic abuse and human trafficking in solemn proceedings.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:
“Building on our other improvements for victims and witnesses, this bill is an important step forward, which will mean far fewer vulnerable witnesses have to give evidence in court during criminal trials. As young witnesses often need extra support, we have previously made clear that this reform must focus in the first instance on children.
“This represents a significant change to the law and practice, which justice organisations will need to implement in a managed way in order to achieve our aim of ensuring witnesses can give their best evidence, while protecting the rights of the accused.
“From investing in a more ‘victim-centred’ approach that ensures people feel supported through the justice process to expanding advocacy services and funding research into survivors’ experiences, we are making significant progress to improve support for victims and witnesses. We are working to deliver a criminal justice system that is increasingly focused on the people affected by crime rather than the processes surrounding them.”
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, if passed by Parliament, would amend the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 and forms part wider reforms to provide more help and support for victims and witnesses in Scotland’s justice system.
The Scottish Government is also working with partners to develop a more ‘victim-centred’ approach – to streamline points of contact, improve information flow and ensure people feel better-supported through the criminal justice system. This will reduce the need for victims to have to re-tell their story to several different organisations as they seek help.
The new Bill’s main provision is the creation of a new rule for children under 18 (complainers and witnesses) in order to ensure that where they are due to give evidence in the most serious cases, they will have it pre-recorded usually by the special measure “evidence by commissioner”.
Other changes in the Bill include:
- New “ground rules hearings” to discuss whether all arrangements are in place and ready for pre-recording and to discuss the scope of questioning
- The opportunity for evidence to be pre-recorded pre-indictment if considered appropriate
- Increased flexibility by giving a new power for judges (when acting as a Commissioner during the pre-recording) to review all the special measures arrangements in place for that witness.
The offences to which the new rule for children applies are:
- Murder, culpable homicide, and assault to the danger of life
- Rape and other sexual offences
- Abduction and plagium (child kidnapping)
- Human trafficking, slavery and female genital mutilation
- An attempt to commit an offence above.You can read the Bill and accompanying information documents on the Scottish Parliament website.
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