Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are set to visit new evidence-taking facilities as the Vulnerable Witnesses Act comes into force today.
The new suite, which opened towards the end of last year, aims to provide a less daunting setting than a court for vulnerable witnesses and complainers to give evidence in. This will play an important part in meeting the aim of the Act, which is to increase the use of pre-recorded evidence from children and other vulnerable witnesses.
The Committee scrutinised the proposals for the changes, which were brought forward by the Scottish Government, in late 2018 and early 2019. At that time, the Committee called on the Government to go further than it was proposing, and fully adopt the Scandinavian Barnahus (or Children’s House) principles into Scots law, adapting it to the Scottish context. This followed a visit to the Barnahus in Oslo, and significant evidence gathering on the subject.
Barnahus principles include reducing the amount of interviews a child has to go through if they are a witness or complainer in a case – ideally to just one forensic interview; and for evidence to be taken in as child-friendly a setting as possible. This includes not only the décor and surroundings, but also providing wrap-around support from different agencies provided in one place to help a child deal with any linked traumas or health issues that also need attention, while supporting them to give the best evidence possible.
During the passage of the Bill, the Scottish Government committed to introducing a Scottish version of the Barnahus concept as its ‘intended destination’, with this new law being an important step in that direction.
The entry into force of the Vulnerable Witnesses Act today will expand the number of people able to benefit from the support made available to vulnerable witnesses, including through the new evidence suite in Glasgow.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:
“These facilities are an important first step towards realising the Committee’s vision of a Scottish version of the Barnahus model, and Members are looking forward to seeing them first hand.
“We recognise the potential stress caused by giving evidence, and we want to ensure steps are taken to avoid children being retraumatised by the court processes.
“On our visit to Oslo, we were struck by how the Barnahus provided wrap-around support. Members therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s ongoing work to introduce a similar approach for child victims and witnesses in Scotland.
“Today is a milestone in the move towards a new way to support victims and witnesses giving evidence. The Committee is pleased to be able to be here at these new facilities in Glasgow to mark this important occasion.”
Background to the Justice Committee’s work on this Bill can be found on their webpages here, as well as direct links to the Stage 1 Report and information on their visit to Oslo.
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