New Evidence and Hearings Suite for children and vulnerable witnesses opens

Nov 18, 2019

Court can be a traumatic place for children to give evidence in a criminal trial. The new specialised Glasgow Evidence and Hearings Suite provides facilities to let child witnesses pre-record their evidence and for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence remotely away from the formality of a court room. The suite also provides hearing rooms for the Additional Support Needs Tribunal. 

Evidence suite PlaqueToday the Evidence and Hearings Suite, Glasgow was opened by Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice. 

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service’s purpose-built suite has been made possible with £2m funding from the Scottish Government. Its design, with input from children and vulnerable witnesses, incorporates child-friendly hearing rooms for the pre-recording of evidence, “live link” rooms for evidence given by TV link to court, waiting rooms and support spaces.  It also includes a sensory room to help create a calm and supportive environment which is a far cry from the traditional courtroom where children have previously given evidence. 

LJC speechLady Dorrian said: “Our earlier work on the Evidence and Procedure Review highlighted that subjecting children to the traditional adversarial form of examination and cross-examination at court is no longer acceptable; is unlikely to elicit the best quality of evidence and has the potential to cause further distress. 

“This new Suite will help children and vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence, and have it tested, in a supportive environment, still respecting the need for a fair trial. Trauma-informed staff will manage the hearings and live TV links to court, taking account of the specific needs or vulnerabilities of the witness. This is another significant step in improving the way in which children and vulnerable witnesses are treated in our criminal justice system.” 

Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary, said: “We are working closely with SCTS and other partners to improve the experiences of children and vulnerable witnesses in the justice system, and this excellent new facility provides the technical quality required, with professional and supportive staff, within an environment designed to enable them to give their best evidence in criminal trials.

“Today we have laid Commencement Regulations in Parliament to ensure that any child witness under the age of 18 giving evidence in the most serious cases will be allowed to have it pre-recorded, sparing them the trauma of giving evidence during a trial. This first phase of implementing the new pre-recording rule will cover certain cases in the High Court. Modern facilities and technology play a vital role in delivering this change and I am pleased the Scottish Government has supported the development of this venue.”

The SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen thanked all of those who had been involved in getting the new suite to this point and said: “This is the first of four suites we are providing in Scotland, others will be created in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen. Evidence room There is now a coalition of judiciary, practitioners, voluntary organisations and politicians who have combined to bring about substantial change – change which should make the experience of children and vulnerable witnesses encountering the criminal justice system so much better, and more suitable in securing their best evidence.”

 Anna O’Reilly, Children 1st Assistant Director said: “The opening of the new suite is an important step on Scotland’s journey to meet the needs of vulnerable witnesses, especially children. They will now be able to give pre-recorded evidence in an environment more sensitive and suitable to their needs, the time they wait to give evidence will be reduced and there will be no chance of them meeting the accused.

 “The suite demonstrates the strong commitment of the courts, Scottish Government and legal profession to ensure children do not experience further trauma in our justice system. The Scottish Government is clear that in future children should get support through a Barnahus, or Child’s House, where all the different services a child might need like justice, health and social work are provided under one roof. Learning from the new suite will inform the ongoing work to develop a Scottish Barnahus, so that children’s rights to fair justice and effective and timely support to recover are always upheld.”

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