Vulnerable witnesses bill unanimously passed at Holyrood

Vulnerable witnesses bill unanimously passed at Holyrood

Lady Dorrian

Legislation to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of jury trials has been passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to minimise distress and improve the quality of evidence given as it will be recorded at an earlier stage in proceedings for the most serious offences.

Chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Eric McQueen welcomed the passing of the bill, saying: “This bill builds on our review of Evidence and Procedure which highlighted the need to transform the way in which we capture the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses.

“At the heart of the review’s recommendations was the greater use of pre-recorded evidence to avoid re-traumatising a vulnerable witness and to ensure they could give the most accurate, reliable and comprehensive evidence and be tested on it fairly”.

In 2017, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, launched a High Court Practice Note which encouraged the use of the evidence by commissioner procedure to allow pre-recorded evidence to be used in court more often, and which set out how to make sure the process is successful.

Once the bill receives royal assent the new act will enshrine that principle for child witnesses in very serious cases.

The bill includes the power to extend the provision to adult vulnerable witnesses in solemn proceedings including sexual offences, stalking, domestic abuse and human trafficking.

Mr McQueen said: “With £2 million funding from the Scottish government, we are creating a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow. The suite provides specially designed facilities including child-friendly hearing rooms suitable for pre-recording evidence, live link rooms for evidence given by TV link to court, waiting rooms and support spaces.  It also includes a sensory room to help create a calm and supportive environment. Our facilities to support evidence by commissioner will also be upgraded in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.”

Lady Dorrian said: “In the past few years we have taken significant steps to provide for a better environment for the taking and testing of a vulnerable witness’ evidence.

“This bill takes that progress to the next stage, with the potential to make a real and positive difference both to vulnerable witnesses and to the overall quality of the justice system.  When this act receives Royal Assent I look forward to helping make the implementation a success.”

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