Justice Committee seeks views on pre-recorded evidence for vulnerable witnesses

Written by Jenni Davidson on 4 July 2018 in News

The Scottish Government’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill proposes greater use of pre-recorded evidence from children and other vulnerable witnesses

High Court in Glasgow - Image credit: Lenn's Pics

Holyrood’s Justice Committee is seeking views on the use of pre-recorded video evidence in court in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament, proposes greater use of pre-recorded evidence from vulnerable witnesses in the most serious criminal cases.

Initially it proposes making this available for children, before rolling it out to others, such as victims of rape, domestic abuse or human trafficking.

The aim is to protect children and vulnerable adults from suffering further trauma by the experience of going to court and being cross-examined.

It will give witnesses more certainty about when they are required to talk about what they have seen than waiting for a case will come to court.

It is thought that pre-recording testimony may also produce better evidence as it will be possible to record statements sooner, while the events are fresher.

As part of its scrutiny of the proposed legislation, the Justice Committee wants to examine a number of areas to make sure the bill is balanced between protecting witnesses and victims and the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

One issue it wants to address is whether a new law is necessary when there are already some existing provisions for the use of video evidence.

Video evidence is used in limited way at the moment as part of special measures for those who would find it difficult to testify in court.

It includes the use of a live TV links in court for vulnerable witnesses and the possibility to apply to for evidence to be given in advance to a judge or sheriff in some cases.

The committee also wants views on what process should be used to give pre-recorded evidence and how a new system should be rolled out.

In addition, the committee is seeking opinions on the decision not to include under-18s accused of a crime in these measures.

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “The Justice Committee will be looking for a range of people to give their views on this bill, including young people and those who have experience of similar systems internationally.

“The whole committee would support avoiding re-traumatising victims or witnesses – particularly if they are young, or in some other way vulnerable.

“However, we need to ensure the right balance is struck in the interests of justice.

“A new system to encourage the use of pre-recorded evidence would need to have the confidence of victims, witnesses and the wider legal system.

“Therefore, it is crucial that issues like what process would be used to give pre-recorded evidence, who it would benefit, and the way in which a new system is rolled out are properly debated in the committee.”

Views can be submitted to the committee until 29 August.

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