Bill could impel more children to take stand

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THERE are fears more children will have to appear in court under changes proposed by the Scottish Government.

Charity Children 1st has warned defence lawyers will have more opportunity to argue that youngsters should appear in court in person.

It follows the introduction of the Scottish Government’s Victims and Witnesses Bill.

Children 1st has generally been supportive of the proposed legislation, which includes a victims’ surcharge, where offenders pay into a fund that ­supports people in the aftermath of crime.

However, Kate Higgins, policy manager for the charity, said: “Defence solicitors will want children to give evidence in court. Quite strict tests are applied in terms of weighing up the risk to the accused.

“We believe that will mean many more children ending up in court and giving evidence.”

She said the law will be fine if it is framed differently.

“There should be a presumption that the child should not be in court,” she said.

Ms Higgins added that sheriffs have previously told the charity that they already have concerns about the numbers of children who are expected to give evidence in court.

Despite this, the Scottish Government does not believe the law should lead to an increase in child witnesses.

Rather, it says, the law will give children more choice as to whether they give evidence in person or not.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that comments from people in the justice system had suggested that the current presumption against children giving evidence is applied too rigidly by the courts, and little regard may be given to the needs and wishes of the child.

This can lead to a situation where a child is required to give evidence from a remote site, separately from their mother or father who may be giving evidence in the courtroom itself, she said.