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Vulnerable Witnesses Bill passes final Holyrood stage
The bill to enable more child witnesses to pre-record evidence ahead of jury trials has been passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs gave their approval after stage 3 of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which is expected to benefit hundreds of children each year once it comes into force. Pre-recording of evidence at an early stage is expected to minimise distress and improve the quality of the evidence given.
The offences covered include murder, culpable homicide, assault to the danger of life, abduction, plagium, sexual offences, human trafficking, domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. The bill also contains the power to extend its application to adult vulnerable witnesses.
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham commented: "This is a milestone in Scotland’s journey to protect children as they interact with the justice system, and a key part of our wider work to strengthen support for victims and witnesses.
"Children who have witnessed the most traumatic crimes must be able to start on the path to recovery at the earliest possible stage and these changes will allow that, improving the experiences of the most vulnerable child witnesses, as far fewer will have to give evidence in front of a jury.
"We are committed to ensuring these significant reforms are implemented in a considered, effective way and we have already provided the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service with more than £2m to upgrade technology and create hearings suites that will support child and vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence."
Welcoming the bill, SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: "This bill builds on our review of evidence and procedure which highlighted the need to transform the way in which we capture the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses.
"At the heart of the review’s recommendations was the greater use of pre-recorded evidence to avoid re-traumatising a vulnerable witness and to ensure they could give the most accurate, reliable and comprehensive evidence and be tested on it fairly."
Children 1st is to receive additional Government funding to support staff who will ensure the voice of children informs the Government’s approach to justice. Chief executive Mary Glasgow added: "Today’s legislation will help to drive a transformative shift in how Scotland’s justice system treats children. The passage of the bill has been pivotal in uniting the Scottish Government and Parliament around the vision that when children speak out justice is done quickly and fairly and children are supported to recover from distressing and traumatic experiences.
"The cross-party recognition that this is best achieved by developing a Scottish Barnahus or Child’s House is a tremendous step forward. Children 1st welcome the commitment and funding from the Scottish Government to support children’s voices to drive this change and transform the system for every child witness in Scotland."