Justice Committee backs Vulnerable Witnesses Bill

24.01.2019

Plans to increase the use of pre-recorded evidence in criminal trials have been given the green light by Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

The moves are aimed at reducing the stress and trauma of being involved with the legal system for vulnerable victims and witnesses of crime, with an initial focus on children.

However, the Committee is calling on the Government to go further than it has so far proposed, and fully adopt the Scandinavian Barnahus – or Children’s House – principles. While pre-recording evidence by specialist interviewers is an important part of this model and already covered in the Bill, other elements such as child-friendly design and ‘under one roof’ welfare and wellbeing support should also be implemented. In the longer-term, the Committee believes that the ‘one forensic interview’ approach should be adapted for Scotland. The Committee believes this could reduce the overall trauma a child is put through during an investigation and improve children’s welfare. 

The Committee also found that the Bill should:

• Be extended to include child witnesses in High Court and sheriff and jury domestic abuse cases in the first tranche of those eligible for the new measures.
• Ensure all professionals involved in questioning child and vulnerable witnesses receive appropriate, trauma-informed training.
• Aim to pre-record evidence as close to the alleged offence as possible, which should improve recall of the events in question, as well as allowing the witness or victim to start moving on sooner.

Speaking as the report was launched, Justice Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:

“Events that precede a child becoming either a witness or possibly the victim in a criminal trial are likely to have been distressing in themselves.

“Efforts to reduce the subsequent stress and trauma that can be exacerbated by the legal process are strongly supported by the Committee.

“However, we also believe the changes could be more ambitious. The Committee is calling for the Barnahus principle to be fully introduced so that young people receive wraparound support through the whole legal and recovery process.”

The Committee heard concerns from the Scottish Government about introducing the Barnahus principle into the Scottish legal system, due to our legal system’s adversarial nature. However, Barnahus have been adapted to a number of different countries unique legal systems, including in countries with adversarial traditions, and the Committee did not consider this challenge would be an insurmountable barrier.

 

 

Background

Background information about the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, including a visit to the Barnahus in Oslo, is available in this news release on the Norway visit, and this news release on the call for evidence.

All other submissions and materials on the Committee scrutiny are online here.

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