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Report calls for recording of child witness evidence

16 June 2017

Proposals to improve the way evidence is taken from child and vulnerable witnesses, so that they are protected from potential trauma in court, have been published today by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service.

They are contained in a new report under the Evidence & Procedure Review project.

Its 33 recommendations are designed to open the way to wider use of audio-visual recording of evidence from children and vulnerable witnesses. They include:

  • better training of police and social workers to improve skills in interviewing children;
  • a standardised approach to training so smaller numbers of interviewers are trained to a higher standard;
  • funding to provide urgent replacement of existing recording equipment and the provision of encryption capacity;
  • funding for professional transcribers to transcribe joint investigative interviews (JIIs);
  • legislative changes to allow earlier vulnerable witness applications and the taking of evidence by commissioner;
  • review and updating of the 2011 Scottish Government guidance on JIIs.

The report explores why JIIs – interviews by police and social workers with under-16s where there might be an ongoing risk to the wellbeing of the child – are not used as evidence as much as they could be, what improvements can be made to ensure their quality and consistency, and how the system could change to make it easier to use them as evidence in chief.

Other witnesses 

A further section of the report looks at how to extend the visual recording of investigative interviews and witness statements to child witnesses not covered by a JII, as well as other vulnerable witnesses. Its recommendations include:

  • visual recording of investigative interviews and witness statements should first be extended to child and adult vulnerable witnesses;
  • recording should take place when an investigating officer decides it is appropriate to allow a vulnerable witness not to attend court;
  • work should begin on detailed plans to introduce visually recorded evidence in summary courts.

The report also looks at a number of other issues including the type of accommodation used to carry out recorded interviews, and recommends further study of the possibility of setting up vulnerable interview centres along the lines of the child’s house (Barnehus) model developed in Scandinavia and adopted by a number of European countries.

Recognising that such wide-ranging and radical reform of evidence giving has considerable resourcing, investment and legislative implications, the working group suggests a phased introduction of the recommendations with initial emphasis focused on improved training to create a pool of expert interviewers to improve the quality of JIIs.

SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen commented: “The Evidence & Procedure Review is intended to take us towards a criminal justice system at the forefront of best practice in relation to children and vulnerable witnesses. This report is part of that journey, identifying how best to capture complete, reliable and accurate evidence as soon as possible after an incident is reported.

“If we get that initial process right, the chances are increased of a child or vulnerable witness not having to give their evidence again if there are legal proceedings. It also increases the chance of a trial process that is fair to all concerned, and minimises the risk of further trauma to any alleged victim or witness.”

Click here to access the report. 

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