Scots set out to help vulnerable witnesses

Scottish children and vulnerable adult
witnesses are to be helped in court under proposals outlined in a
new consultation document released earlier this month.

Vital Voices – Helping Vulnerable
Witnesses Give Evidence
examines how existing measures to help
vulnerable witnesses can be improved or combined more

Only children under 16, people with a
significant learning difficulty, and some adults with a mental
disorder currently qualify as vulnerable witnesses. The paper is
asking whether the legal definition should be widened to include
victims of sexual offences, anyone with a mental disorder and
ethnic minorities.

The paper also considers using a trained
intermediary to take evidence from children or adults with
communication problems and appointing a special lawyer to represent
the interests of vulnerable witnesses. It also looks at extending
measures to proceedings other than criminal trials such as
children’s hearings; greater use of psychological evidence; and
modifying the competence test, which prevents the evidence of some
children and vulnerable adults being heard at all.

Scotland’s justice minister Jim Wallace said:
“We also have the challenge of finding the right balance between
meeting the needs of a witness and ensuring justice is done fairly
and openly,” he added.

The consultation will last three months and is
part of a wider programme to help witnesses and victims, including
the development of a victim liaison office by the Crown Office and
the group implementing the recommendations of the lord advocate’s
working group on child witness support.

– For more information go to

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