More witnesses to testify via video in Scots courts shake-up

Video links in court rooms could be a familiar sight in a new legal system shake-up. Picture: PA
Video links in court rooms could be a familiar sight in a new legal system shake-up. Picture: PA
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More witnesses will have their evidence electronically recorded and avoid a court appearance under a radical shake-up of Scotland’s justice system.

A report published by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) calls for technology to be used to speed up the summary justice system which deals with less serious cases.

The moves would remove the need for the accused to attend procedural hearings and for witnesses to attend trials to testify in person.

The recommendations are contained within the report Evidence and Procedure Review – Next Steps, which was published yesterday.

The proposals will eventually be passed to the Scottish Government for consideration.

Eric McQueen, chief executive of SCTS, said: “For too long it has been easy to describe our criminal courts as products of the Victorian age.

“Our task now is to bring them right into the 21st century, not by tinkering at the edges, but by radical digital reform to improve the quality of justice for all concerned. This report recommends that we use technology to allow children and vulnerable witnesses to give their evidence, and have it examined, out with the pressures of the court environment and to modernise the way we do business in summary criminal cases through a digital case management system.”

It is hoped the use of digital technology would help speed up the 140,000 summary cases which pass through the Scottish legal system each year by reducing the number of witnesses cited to court as well as the number of repeated hearings.

There is also a call for technology to be installed in all courts to allow children and vulnerable witnesses to give evidence without the pressures of the sort environment.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee, said: “We would support using recorded statements taken within minutes or a few hours from an event taking place, rather than relying on witness accounts many months or even years after the event.

“However it will be essential to ensure that evidence can be properly tested.”