Children spared courtroom ordeal under new legislation

13 June 2018, 11:26


Children will be spared the ordeal of giving evidence in court under new legislation introduced at Holyrood.

The Scottish Government's proposed Vulnerable Witnesses Bill will create a new rule that the evidence of witnesses under the age of 18 should be pre-recorded in the most serious criminal trials.

Further provisions would allow this to be extended to vulnerable adult witnesses such as victims of sexual offences, human trafficking, stalking or domestic abuse.

The legislation, if passed, would also make it easier for vulnerable witnesses to request other measures such as giving evidence via a television link.

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."

Welcoming the Bill, Mary Glasgow, interim chief executive of charity Children 1st, said: "This Bill marks another crucial stage on Scotland's journey towards creating a fairer justice system for all.

"There is clear evidence that taking a child-friendly approach to pre-recording children's evidence can reduce the risk that they experience further harm and improve the quality of their evidence. This benefits everybody - including the accused.

"We hope that the Bill will become the catalyst for wider changes in training, culture and practice at every level of Scotland's justice system to better support children and all vulnerable witnesses."