Support for vulnerable witnesses

11 Mar 2016 03:45 PM

Putting vulnerable witnesses at the heart of justice system improvements.

Vulnerable victims and witnesses are benefiting from more support when giving evidence in court than ever before.

Significant improvements which came into force in September last year have increased the support available to children and vulnerable adult witnesses, putting them at the heart of improvements to the justice system.

New figures show that more than 13,000 applications for special measures to support vulnerable people in court were made in 2015. This year nearly 3,400 applications were already received by the end of February alone.

Special measures available to vulnerable witnesses include giving evidence via video link, screens in court and having a supporter available while giving evidence.

Recent improvements include extending the automatic eligibility for certain support measures (such as giving evidence via video link); making a closed court available on application, and creating a new category of vulnerability for people likely to suffer significant risk of harm as a result of giving evidence.

Welcoming the figures, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, said:

“These changes ensure that our most vulnerable people are offered the right support to give them the confidence to fulfil their public duty and know their voices will be heard. Providing help and support for victims and witnesses is key to building an even stronger criminal justice system in Scotland.

“It is heartening to see such a large rise in the number of people accessing these supportive measures and to know that they are benefiting the people most in need of protection.

“We continue to work closely with victim support organisations and criminal justice agencies in shaping the improvements in support measures and these changes have been widely welcomed by partners.”

Notes To Editors

For information see a recent Parliamentary Question: http://ow.ly/Zl2QA

Last year’s changes were brought in under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014.

Previous measures from the Act were brought into force on 13 August 2014, 30 January 2015 and 1 July 2015. These include:

  • A new right for alleged victims of sexual offences, domestic abuse, human trafficking and stalking to specify the gender of their police interviewer
  • A new right for victims and witnesses to access information about the progress of their case
  • The publications of standards of service for victims and witnesses so they know what to expect from the criminal justice agencies

The Act also helps meet European obligations on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

Further information on the Act can be found at the following link: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/policies/victims-witnesses