The Scottish judicial system is failing vulnerable child witnesses despite legislation designed to improve the process for them, a children’s charity head said today.
The comments from Anne Houston, chief executive of the charity Children 1st and chair of the Scottish Justice for Children alliance, came after the Scottish government published a report on the impact of legislation to improve support for child and vulnerable adult witnesses.
Houston said: “Children continue to be traumatised by their experience of giving evidence in court, with many not even aware of the measures available to help them.”
The report examined the implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004, which introduced a range of measures intended to help child and adult vulnerable witnesses to give their “best evidence” in court. These included the mainstream use of ‘special measures’ (SMs) for giving evidence, such as screens and CCTV.
Perception of poor treatment
The study found that uptake of special measures has increased since the Act was introduced, but interviewees perceived that witnesses attending Scottish courts continued to be treated poorly.
For instance, around half of all child witnesses in the study did not have a Child Witness Notice (CWN) detailing their needs, even though this is a legal requirement.
“This report shows that three years on from the Act first being introduced, there are still serious gaps in its implementation,” Anne Houston commented. “We call on all those involved in the judicial system, and on the government, to do more to bring about real change.”
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