Improvements for child witnesses.
New legislation ensuring that any child witness in the most serious criminal cases will have their evidence pre-recorded comes into force today (20 January 2020).
The change, which will apply to certain cases in the High Court, will spare under 18s the potential trauma of giving evidence during a trial. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act was passed unanimously in May 2019.
It has been backed by over £3 million criminal justice sector funding since the Vulnerable Witnesses legislation was introduced to Parliament in 2018. This investment is supporting the greater use of pre-recording of evidence and the building of modern facilities to enable evidence to be taken in a safe and secure environment.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, officially opened a new Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service evidence and hearings suite in Glasgow in November 2019 and similar facilities are planned in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.
Mr Yousaf said:
“Today marks a significant 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.
“Legislation is only one part of the jigsaw, backed by the development of modern, progressive and technologically advanced facilities to ensure children are supported to give their best evidence.”
Mary Glasgow, Chief Executive, Children 1st said:
“Children have told us that they found giving evidence in court almost as traumatic as the abuse itself. This Act means more children will now be able to give pre-recorded evidence in an environment more suitable to their needs. It also reduces the time children wait to give evidence and means they will not have to face the accused.
“During discussions about the new law the Scottish Government made clear that in future children should get justice, care and support to recover through the Scandinavian Barnahus, or Child’s House, model. Greater use of pre-recording will help us establish how best to bring all the different services a child might need, including the evidential interview, together under one roof.”
The new rule means child witnesses in solemn cases (cases heard before a jury) will record their evidence in advance of trial for a list of offences, including: murder, culpable homicide, assault to the danger of life, abduction, plagium, sexual offences, human trafficking, domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. This is subject to certain exceptions set out in the legislation.
It will apply to cases where the accused first appears on petition on or after 20 January 2020. In cases where the accused does not appear on petition it will apply to cases where an indictment is served on or after 20 October 2020.