Child domestic abuse witnesses set to give pre-recorded evidence in law change

A planned new law to boost the use of pre-recorded evidence of vulnerable witnesses in criminal trials is likely to be extended to cover child witnesses of domestic abuse.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has lodged an amendment to the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill which would extend the list of crimes the proposed legislation covers to include domestic abuse cases dealt with by sheriff and jury.

Crimes currently on the list include murder, culpable homicide, assault to the danger of life and human trafficking.

Opposition parties called for domestic abuse to be added in a parliamentary debate at stage one last month after Holyrood’s Justice Committee recommended the change, having taken evidence on the Bill.

The new law would create a presumption to allow vulnerable witnesses and victims aged under 18 to have their evidence in criminal trials pre-recorded in advance.

The process avoids them experiencing the trauma of having to give evidence in court and could be rolled out in phases to vulnerable adult witnesses.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf

Mr Yousaf said: “The impact of domestic abuse on children is traumatic and distressing, and it is important that we take progressive action to improve the experiences of child witnesses in domestic abuse solemn cases.

“I listened carefully to the evidence given to the Justice Committee and found those views to be compelling.

“I am grateful to the committee for their consideration of this important issue and agree that the remit of our proposed pre-recording rule should be extended to these cases.”

Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “Participation in the actual process of giving evidence in domestic abuse cases is a major source of anxiety and distress for women, children and young people.

“Measures to make this process less intimidating will secure their best evidence, and this amendment is welcome and timely.”

Mr Yousaf’s amendment, and any other proposed changes to the Bill, will be considered by the Justice Committee at stage two later this month.