When Scotland’s first minister Jack McConnell set out his
government’s stall for the next parliament, much of what he had to
say about young people came across as rather draconian.
But there was some welcome news for those who find themselves
caught up in the criminal justice system as witnesses to crime. The
Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill aims to ensure children and
adults with learning difficulties are better supported so that
their voices can be heard.
The bill involves doing away with the infamous “competence test” by
which Scottish judges decree whether someone is capable of giving
evidence. In the past this has ruled out potential witnesses who,
with the right support, could have supplied the court with vital
The ditching of this test is a progressive step, but earlier on in
the process assumptions are still being made about people’s
capacity to be reliable witnesses across the UK. Even after all
these years of high-profile cases, people with learning
difficulties and children are still not always taken seriously when
they report a crime. This cannot be allowed to continue.