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Today, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) Scotland Act 2019 comes into force.
This piece of legislation, passed by the Scottish Parliament, was given Royal Assent in June 2019.
It represents the introduction of an innovative change to Scots criminal law. The new law will permit vulnerable witnesses to pre-record their evidence in advance of trial so that they will not be required to appear in court in person.
According to a Scottish Government press release (see link below), a vulnerable witness is defined in the following terms:
‘[if] they are likely to suffer significant risk of harm as a result of giving evidence. This includes victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, trafficking and stalking, and those under the age of 18.’
For children aged under 18, in particular, the Act permits the evidence to be taken by commissioner. This procedure will be disregarded if it would significantly prejudice the interests of justice.
The Scottish Government has noted that the new legislation consolidates changes that were made in 2014 to safeguard the rights of vulnerable witnesses i.e. the Witnesses and Victims (Scotland) Act 2014.
Links to both pieces of legislation can be found below:
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Copyright Seán J Crossan, 20 January 2020