Vulnerable Witnesses Act Into Force
A change to the way child witnesses have to give their evidence has now come into force in the criminal courts in Scotland. The change means that child witnesses in the most serious criminal cases will have their evidence pre-recorded to avoid causing unnecessary upset to the child.
The change will apply to certain cases in the High Court and is being introduced to avoid under 18s from having to give evidence during a trial.
It has been backed by specially allocated criminal justice sector funding which was put in place after the vulnerable witnesses legislation was introduced to Parliament in 2018.
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. It is hoped these new facilities will help continue with the modernisation of the Acottish Criminal Court system.
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 of 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.”
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