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Vision outlined to improve court experience for children & vulnerable witnesses

As part of Evidence & Procedure Review, the Scottish Courts & Tribunal Service has today published a report which outlines measures which could improve the way children and EPR vulnerable witnesses experience the court process.

These include encouraging and improving the use of taking evidence by a Commissioner (the current system where a child or vulnerable witness can be questioned in advance of trial, under the supervision of a judge) and changes to legislation to shorten the gap between initial interview and further examination. The report also sets out a long term vision based around the Barnahus (Children’s House) model in place in Scandinavian countries - initially for children, but extended later to other vulnerable witnesses. The Barnahus model spares children from repetitive interviews by different agencies in a variety of locations, which can be harmful and confusing, and can damage the quality of their evidence.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian (Chair of the working group which produced the report), said: “In a civilised society, all those who come into contact with the criminal justice system must be treated with respect, and be allowed to engage meaningfully with it. For children and other vulnerable witnesses, this means finding ways to take their evidence in an environment and in a manner that does not harm them further, but allows their evidence to be given and tested fully and appropriately. In the first Evidence and Procedure Review report three years ago, we acknowledged that Scotland was still significantly lagging behind those at the forefront in the field of measures to achieve this; and that we need to develop our own, Scottish, solutions to the challenge. This report is another step in the journey to put Scotland amongst the world leaders in delivering fair and effective justice for all, including the most vulnerable in society.”

Sandy Brindley, Chief Executive of Rape Crisis Scotland said: "Rape Crisis Scotland welcomes the efforts and innovative approach taken by the SCTS in making improvements to the way in which evidence is gathered and trials conducted for vulnerable witnesses. Rape complainers often describe their experience of the court process as being extremely traumatic, and in some cases as much of an ordeal as the rape itself. This must change, and it is right that every possible option is explored so that the justice process does not further compound the harm complainers have already experienced. Fear of the court process is a major barrier to survivors reporting what has happened to them, and it is right that their interests should be placed front and centre if we are serious about creating a fair and humane framework and environment which will allow survivors to feel able to come forward and rape complainers to give their best evidence without further traumatising them."

See also SCTS Press release: ‘New vision to change children’s and vulnerable witnesses’ court experience