Supporting vulnerable witnesses
£950,000 to improve evidence facilities for children and vulnerable adults.
More children and vulnerable adults will have the opportunity to give evidence without attending court when a dedicated facility opens in 2019.
The new Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) centre for child and vulnerable witnesses will benefit from £950,000 funding and increase access to pre-recording of evidence. It supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to improving the experience of witnesses in the criminal justice system.
The safe and secure facilities will include flexible hearing suites and vulnerable witness suites with a direct video link to court, a private evidence room with one-way glass to aid observation, and a specially designed sensory room with furnishings and quiet spaces.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“This is the latest step towards achieving our ambition that children, wherever possible, should not have to give evidence in court during a criminal trial. It will make significant improvements to witnesses’ experience of the justice system in Glasgow. I am pleased to hear that there is scope for expansion in Scotland and where appropriate, these suites may also be used for vulnerable adult witnesses.
“We believe strongly that the justice system should be compassionate and trauma informed and able to respond effectively to the needs of the victims – both adults and children. Earlier this year we introduced the Vulnerable Witnesses Bill to the Scottish Parliament, which proposes reforms to enable the much greater use of pre-recording evidence in advance of a criminal trial.
“While legislative reform is needed, it is vital that there are modern facilities available with pre-recording technology. That is why the improvements being delivered by SCTS are so important and will be key to the success of these reforms.”
SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen said:
“Our earlier work on The Evidence and Procedure Review satisfied us of we needed to transform the way in which we take the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses. This was followed up with the Lord Justice Clerk’s Practice Note to encourage the use of the evidence by commissioner procedure; where a child or vulnerable witness can be questioned in advance of a trial under the supervision of a judge and their evidence recorded.
"We know from the initial evaluation of the practice note that having the right facilities and environment are critical factors and the new hearings suite in Glasgow will mean that children and vulnerable people can be supported to give their best evidence, and have it tested, in a safe and secure environment. ”
Linda Jardine, interim director of Children and Family Services, Children 1st said:
"Making sure children and young people feel welcome, comfortable and safe means they can give better evidence without feeling anxious or experiencing further trauma. We especially welcome the continuing involvement of children, young people and adults in shaping the development of this new suite, so that it better meets their needs. The suite is another important marker on Scotland’s journey to ensure that practice, systems and culture support child witnesses to recover and move on with their lives.”
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 12 June 2018. It aims to improve how children, in the first instance, and other vulnerable witnesses participate in the criminal justice system by creating a rule in favour of pre-recording their evidence in advance of a criminal trial.
Equally Safe, the Scottish Government’s strategy on preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, includes an action in its Delivery Plan for SCTS and Scottish Government to work with justice and third sector partners to improve facilities for taking of evidence (including pre-recording) from vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases.