Evidence from child and vulnerable witnesses
Scottish Government support for increased use of pre-recorded evidence.
*In response to embargoed Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service release issued earlier this afternoon*
New legal guidance from one of Scotland’s most senior judges will improve the use of pre-recorded evidence from child and vulnerable witnesses during criminal trials.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has welcomed the practice note, launched by Lady Dorrian, which follows the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) Evidence and Procedure Review.
The new practice note aims to promote greater use of existing legislation which allows for the pre-trial recording of such evidence, while ensuring that hearings elicit comprehensive, accurate and reliable evidence. Pre-recorded evidence reduces the requirement to give evidence in court and minimises the risk of further trauma to the witness.
The Scottish Government is committed to provide practical and financial support to help ensure that the practice note is implemented and more child and vulnerable adult witnesses can provide pre-recorded evidence.
Mr Matheson said:
“Giving evidence during a criminal trial can be a stressful event for anybody but particularly so for children and vulnerable adult witnesses. We want to ensure that they have all the necessary support to reduce anxiety and ensure they can give their best evidence, while maintaining the necessary rights of accused persons.
“I therefore very much welcome Lady Dorrian’s new legal practice note as it is one of the first steps, in what I see, as a journey to improve the experiences of children and vulnerable witnesses in our criminal justice system.
“As I have said previously, we must strengthen our system of support for child and vulnerable witnesses and I consider that in many cases the use of pre-recorded evidence will be the best way to do this.
“We will offer practical and financial support to take forward this important aim as well as considering whether further legislative changes are necessary to enable the even greater use of pre–recorded evidence for child and vulnerable adult witnesses.”
Existing legislation in Scotland already allows for the pre-recording of evidence by both children and adults who are vulnerable witnesses, through evidence taken by a commissioner, appointed by the court. Evidence of the vulnerable witness can be taken in full, including examination, cross-examination and re-examination. It is video recorded and the recording is later received in evidence at the subsequent trial or court hearing.