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Published, 24 January 2020

Changes to how child witnesses give evidence comes into force

New legislation has come into force in Scotland (20 January) which ensures that vulnerable child witnesses in serious criminal cases can have their evidence pre-recorded, sparing them from being re-traumatised by giving evidence at a trial in court.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act draws on the Scandinavian system of Barnahus - or ‘children's house’ - and applies to cases in the High Court, which hear the most serious cases, including murder, sexual offences, human trafficking and domestic abuse.

While child witnesses will still be questioned by defence and prosecution lawyers, this will now be heard and recorded in advance in a child-friendly witness suite, with the recording played during the trial at a later date.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf said:

"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.

“Today marks a significant 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.

“Legislation is only one part of the jigsaw, backed by the development of modern, progressive and technologically advanced facilities to ensure children are supported to give their best evidence.”

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