Vulnerable Witnesses Act - section 9: report

This report meets obligations on Scottish Ministers by the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 to publish a report evaluating the effectiveness of the Act at supporting witnesses to participate in the criminal justice system and to set out next steps for implementation.

9. Next steps for implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Act 2019

Section 9 of the Act obliges Scottish Ministers to set out next steps that they intend to take in implementing the presumption for a wider cohort of vulnerable witnesses.

As set out at Chapter 5 of this report, the Scottish Government previously published an Implementation Plan which sets out a phased roll out of the presumption starting with child witnesses giving evidence in cases involving specific offences followed by adult vulnerable witnesses. The timeline for further roll out of the Act as identified in the Implementation Plan has been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting backlog in criminal court cases which has placed significant pressures on the criminal justice system. The Scottish Government remains committed to introducing a presumption in favour of pre-recorded evidence for all groups of vulnerable witnesses identified in the Implementation Plan.

In further implementing the presumption, however, it is important to be cognisant of the challenges facing justice partners, a theme which has emerged strongly from the consultation responses and in the Scottish Government’s wider engagement. Another factor which Scottish Ministers must also consider in proceeding with further implementation of the presumption is the availability of EBC suites of sufficient quality and in the right locations to support increases in EBC hearings arising from further implementation of the provisions in the Act.

The Scottish Government is working closely with justice partners to explore these issues with a view to producing a revised Implementation Plan for further rollout of the presumption which sets out clear timescales while taking account of the ongoing pressures facing the criminal justice system and the availability of EBC suite capacity. It is the intention of Scottish Ministers to publish the revised Implementation Plan by the end of March 2024. Work to develop a new Implementation Plan is being progressed through one of the Scottish Government’s Transformation Change Programmes (TCP), which brings justice partners together to develop and embed person-centred, trauma-informed justice services.



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