Foreword by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice
I am proud of the positive record that the Scottish Government has in strengthening and enhancing the rights of victims and witnesses. The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced a variety of measures including new rights to access information; new duties to publish standards of service; and the extension of automatic access to special measures to a broader range of vulnerable witnesses. In 2015, we published the Victims' Code for Scotland setting out, clearly and in one place, the rights and support available.
The overall programme of work that we are undertaking also includes continuing consideration of any changes we need to make to enable all, but particularly vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence.
Giving evidence can be a stressful time and for some witnesses it can be an extremely traumatic experience. I want to ensure that we continue to make further improvements that are considered necessary whilst always ensuring that any proposed reforms are balanced and proportionate.
It is in this context that enabling the greater use of pre-recording evidence for child witnesses is one of my key priorities. My ultimate future vision is that all child witnesses in Scotland will have their evidence recorded as early as possible in the process. Ideally, this will mean that their evidence is taken well in advance of the actual trial. I realise this is an ambitious aim and it is likely to take time to fully achieve. But I believe it is vital and necessary that we make this important progressive change whilst also ensuring that the rights of a person accused of a crime are maintained.
I am keen to hear your views on my vision and also how a model for pre-recording evidence could work best for Scotland. In particular, whether there should be a presumption in law in favour of certain categories of witnesses giving pre-recorded evidence. Although my initial focus is on child witnesses, I want to ensure that any new model is also flexible enough to accommodate vulnerable adult witnesses too. That is why this consultation also seeks views on how any presumption in favour of giving pre-recorded evidence could be rolled out in the future.
I hope you have time to consider and respond to the questions posed in this consultation and I look forward to hearing your views.
Michael Matheson MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Email: Lesley Bagha, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House