Bill enabling pre-recording of evidence introduced to Holyrood

Michael Matheson

Legislation to enable the greater use of pre-recording of evidence by child and vulnerable witnesses has been introduced at Holyrood.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill would create a new rule that children who are due to give evidence in the most serious criminal cases should have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of trial.

The bill proposes other improvements such as a simplified process for deemed vulnerable witnesses to request standard special measures such as giving evidence via a live TV link away from the courtroom during the trial.

It also includes a power to enable extension of the new rule to adult witnesses deemed to be vulnerable under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. This covers complainers of sexual offences, stalking, domestic abuse and human trafficking in solemn proceedings.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Building on our other improvements for victims and witnesses, this bill is an important step forward, which will mean far fewer vulnerable witnesses have to give evidence in court during criminal trials. As young witnesses often need extra support, we have previously made clear that this reform must focus in the first instance on children.

“This represents a significant change to the law and practice, which justice organisations will need to implement in a managed way in order to achieve our aim of ensuring witnesses can give their best evidence, while protecting the rights of the accused.

“From investing in a more ‘victim-centred’ approach that ensures people feel supported through the justice process to expanding advocacy services and funding research into survivors’ experiences, we are making significant progress to improve support for victims and witnesses. We are working to deliver a criminal justice system that is increasingly focused on the people affected by crime rather than the processes surrounding them.”