New Hearings Facility for Children and Vulnerable Witnesses

Oct 29, 2018

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) is creating new, state of the art facilities to allow children and vulnerable witnesses to give their evidence in criminal trials and to participate in tribunal hearings within a safe, sensitive and secure environment.

With funding support from the Scottish Government, the creation of a new child and vulnerable witness-friendly hearings suite in Glasgow is underway, with scope to create similar suites in three other cities across Scotland.

Announcing the plans, SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen said

“Our earlier work on The Evidence and Procedure Review highlighted the need to transform the way in which we take the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses.  This was followed up with the Lord Justice Clerk’s Practice Note to encourage the use of the evidence by commissioner procedure; where a child or vulnerable witness can be questioned in advance of a trial under the supervision of a judge and their evidence recorded.   We know from the initial evaluation of the practice note that having the right facilities and environment are critical factors and the new hearings suite in Glasgow will mean that children and vulnerable people can be supported to give their best evidence, and have it tested, in a safe and secure environment.”

The need for these facilities is likely to grow significantly in the future.   The number of Commissioner hearings each year is already increasing and, in June, the Scottish Government introduced the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which will create a presumption that children who are due to give evidence in the most serious criminal cases should have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of trial.

Working closely with third sector organisations and children themselves, the first hearings suite is now under construction in Glasgow. The suite will provide specialist facilities including hearing rooms, “live link” rooms for evidence given by TV link to court, waiting rooms and support spaces.  It will include a sensory room which will also be available as a hearing room. The rooms will be able to accommodate children giving evidence in evidence by commissioner hearings for criminal trials, and children attending for  Additional Support Needs and any other hearings of the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland whether as witnesses or otherwise.

The suite will open in early 2019 and the experiences of children and vulnerable witnesses will influence the future roll out of facilities to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, welcomed the development in Glasgow, saying: 

“This is a positive contribution towards making the experience of giving evidence less traumatic for children and vulnerable witnesses, and easier for them to give a full, accurate and reliable account to the court, in a manner that still meets the needs of a fair trial for all concerned.  I am delighted to see the progress made and I look forward to the first hearings taking place there soon.”

The President of the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, May Dunsmuir, said:

Children across Scotland, from a range of backgrounds and with a range of abilities, have been directly involved in the design of these facilities.  They have influenced how to access the facility, what is in the hearing rooms, and how to create a ‘real’ atmosphere of equality and inclusion.   These facilities will help us to give children the voice they deserve in hearings that affect their education and their life opportunities.”     

Background note

  • Evaluation Report No. 1: – Practice Note 1 of 2017 (Evidence by Commissioner [Link to Report)
  • “Evidence by a Commissioner” is a procedure where evidence is pre-recorded in advance, to avoid the need for a witness to appear in Court.  For High Court trials, these sessions are presided over by a High Court Judge (the Commissioner), and the witness can be questioned by both the prosecution and the defence.
  • Generally we refrain from highlighting the exact location of any vulnerable witness facility to prevent any risk of influence or intimidation.
  • Practice Notes are documents issued by the Lord Justice General in respect of the High Court of Justiciary and the Sheriff Court (criminal) sometimes simply referred to as the "Criminal Courts". They inform practitioners of a practice the court is minded to take or inform practitioners of a practice the court expects them to take.
  • Evidence and Procedure Review – Report of the Pre-Recorded Further Evidence Work-Stream
  • Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, introduced the High Court Practice Note 1 of 2017) in March 2017
  • Link to Health and Education Chamber website


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