Call for evidence on the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill

Introduction 

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is seeking views on the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill.

The main aim of the Bill is to improve how children in the most serious cases participate in the criminal justice system by enabling the much greater use of pre-recording their evidence in advance of a criminal trial. The Bill also provides the framework for extending the use of pre-recorded evidence to other vulnerable witnesses in the future.

Background

The Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government on 12 June 2018. A copy of the Bill and the accompanying documents can be found at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/108702.aspx

The Bill creates a “new rule” which provides that child witnesses in the most serious cases must give all their evidence in advance of a criminal trial. This could be through the use of a special measure known as taking evidence by commissioner – a procedure where the witness is questioned in advance and a recording of that questioning is shown during the trial. A witness’s evidence can also be given in advance through the use of a prior statement, such as a recording of a police interview which can be played in court.

The new rule will apply to child witnesses, including victims, under the age of 18 in serious cases such as murder, human trafficking, rape and other certain sexual offences. It will not, however, apply to child accused.
The Bill also contains a power to extend this new rule in the future to other vulnerable witnesses, including adult “deemed vulnerable witnesses”. Deemed vulnerable witnesses include victims of sexual offences and domestic abuse.

The Scottish Government’s view is that a move towards greater pre-recording of evidence will have significant implications for the criminal justice system. It therefore intends to introduce the new rule in phases, focussing initially on the most vulnerable child witnesses.

The Bill also makes various other changes to the current process for the pre-recording of evidence. For example, the Bill introduces a new procedural hearing, to be known as a “ground rules hearing”, which will be used to prepare for taking a vulnerable witness’s evidence by a commissioner. This ground rules hearing could be a separate hearing, or part of another hearing such as preliminary hearing.

The Bill also introduces a new simplified notification process for the use of standard special measures. Standard special measures are measures which child witnesses and deemed vulnerable witnesses are automatically entitled to (currently, the use of a screen, live link or supporter). Under the simplified procedure in the Bill, a party will notify the clerk of the court of the intention to use a standard special measure, rather than having to lodge a vulnerable witness notice. The standard special measure will be put in place administratively, without the need for a court order. In cases where the new rule requiring the pre-recording of evidence applies, a party will still have to lodge a vulnerable witness notice.

Other changes are made in the Bill to the current process for vulnerable witness notices, including to the timeframes for lodging such notices and for the court considering them.

Remit 

The Committee welcomes views on any aspect of the Bill. This could include views on any of the following questions: 

1. Do you agree with introduction of the “new rule” that child witnesses in the most serious cases must give all their evidence in advance of a criminal trial? Do you have any views on how this new rule should be implemented?

2. The Bill would allow in the future for this new rule to be extended to other vulnerable witnesses, including adult “deemed vulnerable witnesses”. Do you agree with this approach and, if so, to whom would you extend the provisions?

3. Do you have any views on the changes proposed to the procedure for taking evidence by commissioner, such as the introduction of a ground rules hearing?

4. Do you agree with the introduction of a simplified notification procedure for standard special measures?

5. The Scottish Government considers that the proposals in the Bill will have significant implications for the criminal justice system. Do you have any views on the practical, financial or other impacts of the Bill, including the proposed phased roll-out of the provisions in this Bill?

Next steps 

The Committee expects to begin taking evidence on the Bill later this year.

How to submit your views 

The call for written views will close on Wednesday 29 August 2018.

Before making a submission, please read our privacy notice about submitting your views to a Committee. This tells you about how we process your personal data. It is particularly important to note that we would not normally publish information that we consider to be defamatory or which contains personal information about a third party.

Please use the template provided to format your submission. This includes the Data Protection Form. Fill this out and return it with your submission.

If you are under 12 years of age we will need the consent of your parent or guardian. Please and use this form.

Please note that the Justice Committee does not usually involve itself in individual cases or complaints and your submission should, whilst drawing on any of your own personal experiences, focus on the provisions contained within this Bill.

We welcome written views in English, Gaelic, Scots or any other language. Due to the time required to process and analyse evidence, late submissions will only be accepted with the agreement of the clerk.

Written responses should be sent electronically, in the template format, to the following address. Ideally they should be no more than four sides of A4.

[email protected]

If you cannot submit electronically you may send in a hard copy written submission. If you are sending in a hard copy submission please print off and include a copy of the Data Protection Form. Please send them to:

Justice Committee
Scottish Parliament
Holyrood
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

 

 

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