Children and complainants in rape trials will be spared the ordeal of giving evidence in court under plans to extend the use of prerecorded interviews.
Legislation introduced to the Scottish Parliament will create a new rule allowing children due to give evidence in the most serious criminal cases to have their evidence filmed in advance.
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill will also make it easier for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence via TV link away from the courtroom, and will extend the new rules to those deemed vulnerable under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, including complainants in stalking, domestic abuse and sexual offences cases.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Building on our other improvements for victims and witnesses, this bill is an important step forward, which will mean far fewer vulnerable witnesses have to give evidence in court during criminal trials.
“This represents a significant change to the law and practice, which justice organisations will need to implement in a managed way in order to achieve our aim of ensuring witnesses can give their best evidence, while protecting the rights of the accused.”
He added: “From investing in a more ‘victim-centred’ approach that ensures people feel supported through the justice process to expanding advocacy services and funding research into survivors’ experiences, we are making significant progress to improve support for victims and witnesses.
“We are working to deliver a criminal justice system that is increasingly focused on the people affected by crime rather than the processes surrounding them.”
If passed by the parliament, the new legislation will allow for evidence to be recorded pre-indictment.
The rules will allow children to avoid giving evidence in cases involving a range of serious offences, including murder, rape, abduction and human trafficking.
Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson welcomed the publication of the legislation.
He said: “This is a move towards a far more child-centred and rights-compliant approach that will support children to give evidence in a safer way that takes account of their needs.”
He added: “I hope this signals the end of the current adversarial system which often serves to further traumatise vulnerable witnesses.”