World-first allows people to better understand courtroom process.
Victims and witnesses are set to use virtual reality headsets to familiarise themselves with giving evidence in court as part of a pioneering Scottish Government initiative to allay fears or discomfort around the process.
Ahead of giving evidence in court, the world-leading £500,000 virtual court project will allow victims to ‘walk through’ a 3-dimensional world, comprising actual videos of the court building where their case will be held. The system uses cutting-edge software to allow victims and witnesses to interact in a virtual environment that includes depictions of the people and objects they can expect to encounter when they go to court.
The project will enable victims and witnesses to be supported at all times by Victim Support Scotland (VSS) volunteers as they experience the virtual court environment. This will remove the need to travel to court prior to their hearing date, while allowing people to familiarise themselves with what can be an unfamiliar, daunting and often retraumatising environment.
The project - a partnership between VSS, tech provider Immersonal and CivTech, the world’s first successful public-sector-focused innovation accelerator - has delivered a working prototype for Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court in Glasgow with wider development and roll out over the next year.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs Angela Constance said:
“We continue to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, their needs are an absolute priority. However victims and witnesses can naturally find giving evidence a daunting prospect. This unique project, using innovative technology to support and prepare victims for attending court, could prove transformative.
“It has the potential to reduce anxiety and additional trauma, and also reduces the need to travel often long distances for victims to familiarise themselves with a new environment before experiencing it ‘in real life’. We hope that this will reduce retraumatisation and anxiety, supporting victims to give the highest quality evidence.
“This project is part of the Scottish Government‘s wider work that has seen more than £93 million invested through the justice budget over the past five years to prioritise victims' rights and needs. Our Victim Centred Approach Fund continues this important commitment, making £48 million available to victims’ organisations.”
Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland Kate Wallace said:
“Victims and witnesses often tell us of the retraumatising effects caused by giving evidence in court and that it can cause as much anxiety as the crime itself. Victim Support Scotland strongly advocates for victims being able to give evidence remotely and in trauma-informed environments.
“This virtual reality experience will provide just that and can be accessed through a headset available with the help of volunteers from Victim Support Scotland, as well as through laptops, smart phones and tablets thereby offering more choice and access about how to prepare for court at a time and place that suits the victim.”
The cost of the project is being met by CivTech (£393,000) and the Scottish Government (£131,000). VSS is now working with Immersonal on the first steps towards making the experience available at all 52 criminal courts in Scotland.
CivTech is a partnership between the Scottish Government’s Digital and Economic Directorates. Its mission is to drive daring and innovation in the public and third sectors by collaboratively solving challenges to make people’s lives better – and in doing so create generations of sustainable, high growth potential businesses. Its Vision is a transformed Scotland, with the best public services in the world.
Victim Support Scotland is a victim support organisation that provides free advice and support to victims.
Immersonal is a Northern Ireland-based product development company that creates bespoke virtual reality applications. They were successfully selected to join the CivTech programme after submitting their proposed solution.
The Scottish Government’s Victim Centred Approach Fund is providing £48 million over three-years to fund support for victims’ organisations across Scotland.
Victims will continue to have the option of in-person court familiarisation visits, in tandem with the virtual visits.
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