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.

2. Structure of the report

Chapter 1 introduces the report and provides a broad overview of what it covers with Chapter 2 providing a short breakdown of what is covered in the individual chapters as well as an explanation of certain terms used in the report. An overview of the context and background to the Act is provided in Chapter 3. An overview of what the Act does is set out at Chapter 4 while the steps that have been taken by the Scottish Government to implement it are provided at Chapter 5. Chapter 6 presents the statistical findings. The main findings from an analysis of consultation responses are set out in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 brings together the statistical findings, analysis of consultation responses and supporting information to evaluate the extent to which the provisions at sections 1 and 5 of the Act are supporting relevant witnesses to participate in the criminal justice system. Chapter 9 details the next steps that the Scottish Ministers intend to take in considering further implementation of the provisions in the Act to a wider cohort of vulnerable witnesses. Lastly, the methodology for gathering the data to deliver against the reporting requirement as set out in the Act is provided at Chapter 10.

Terminology used

Throughout the report, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 is referred to as ‘the Act’.

The term “relevant witness” is used to describe those witnesses to whom the presumption in favour of pre-recorded evidence applies under the provisions in the Act commenced to date. The presumptions covers witnesses (other than the accused) that are under the age of 18 on the date that proceedings are initiated against the accused[1] and who are required to give evidence at or for the purposes of a hearing in the High Court in cases that involve offences specified in the Act such as serious violent and sexual offences.[2]

The term “vulnerable witness” applies to all witnesses under the age of 18 (irrespective of offence or Court in which a case is being heard) as well as to adult victims of specified offences such as sexual offences, domestic abuse, trafficking and/or stalking (Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1995).[3] The term “vulnerable witness” also applies to those witnesses where the Court considers that the quality of their evidence would be affected by virtue of a mental disorder or because of fear or distress associated with giving evidence, and to those witnesses who are at significant risk of harm solely because of giving evidence.[4]

The term “presumption” is also used widely and in the context of this report is used to describe the rule under the Act that a relevant witness’ evidence should be pre-recorded ahead of trial, unless an exception applies.

A list of acronyms used in the report is provided at Annex 2



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