Amendment proposed for Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill.
Child witnesses could now be entitled to have their evidence pre-recorded in the most serious domestic abuse cases, under Scotland’s proposed vulnerable witnesses legislation.
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill, currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament, creates a new rule that child witnesses in solemn cases will pre-record their evidence in advance of a trial for a number of offences, including murder and sexual offences. There was strong support during the Justice Committee’s Stage 1 hearings for the list of offences in the Bill to be extended to domestic abuse cases.
In response to a recommendation by the cross-party committee, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has lodged an amendment to the Bill that would, if approved by MSPs, extend the provisions for child witnesses in domestic abuse solemn cases, i.e., those heard before a jury.
Children in these cases would generally no longer have to give evidence in court, but would instead have their evidence pre-recorded ahead of the trial. This would end their involvement in the trial sooner and allow for quicker recovery.
Mr Yousaf commented:
“The impact of domestic abuse on children is traumatic and distressing, and it is important that we take progressive action to improve the experiences of child witnesses in domestic abuse solemn cases.
“I listened carefully to the evidence given to the Justice Committee and found those views to be compelling. I am grateful to the Committee for their consideration of this important issue and agree that the remit of our proposed pre-recording rule should be extended to these cases.
“With just four weeks to go until the new Domestic Abuse Act is commenced, I am pleased to have been able to propose this important amendment which could have a very positive impact on some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.
“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring these further significant reforms to criminal procedure are delivered in a phased, considered and effective way, so we can achieve our shared goal of improving the experiences of the most vulnerable witnesses in our justice system.”
Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women's Aid said:
“Participation in the actual process of giving evidence in domestic abuse cases is a major source of anxiety and distress for women, children and young people. Measures to make this process less intimidating will secure their best evidence, and this amendment is welcome and timely.
"Scottish Women’s Aid support the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s larger vision for the greater use of pre-recorded evidence, and we look forward to this becoming standard practice not only for child witnesses and complainers but also for vulnerable adult complainers and witnesses. The evidence generated will improve and the confidence of child and adult victims that they will not be unduly revictimised as they engage with our court system will build. It’s a win-win for us all."
As currently drafted, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill creates a new rule that child witnesses in solemn cases will now record their evidence in advance of a trial for a list of offences, including: Murder, Culpable Homicide, Assault to the Danger of Life, Abduction, Plagium, Sexual Offences, Human Trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation.
The purpose of this amendment is to add domestic abuse to the list of offences where the pre-recording rule applies.
Extending the list of offences covered by the Bill was a suggestion raised by many members of the Justice Committee, and was a recommendation of the Stage One report.
The Scottish Parliament approved the general principles of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill on 5 February 2019.