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Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 [S]

Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act makes provision for the use of special measures for the purpose of taking the evidence of children and other vulnerable witnesses in criminal or civil proceedings. The Act was passed on 4 March 2004.



The Act aims to improve the way in which witnesses are treated by the justice system. It will provide better protection for children and vulnerable witnesses, many of whom are victims of crime. It will also allow vulnerable witnesses to give their best possible evidence.

The Act will:

1. Ensure vulnerable witnesses are protected and their voices heard

2. Ensure the needs of vulnerable witnesses are considered throughout the court process

3. Protect the rights of witnesses

Background

The Bill evolved from a consultation paper issued in May 2002 - Vital Voices - Helping Vulnerable Witnesses Give Evidence. The paper looked at the existing measures to help vulnerable witnesses and proposed ways of improving the measures to ensure that witnesses can give the best evidence possible.

The consultation led to a policy statement in February 2003. Legislation is to be introduced in June 2003 and the Bill should have completed its passage through parliament by early 2004.

Key Proposals

1. revised categories of vulnerable witness, including a wide discretionary category

2. children under 16 will have an automatic right to special measures

3. in sex or violence cases, children under 12 should not normally have to come to court to give evidence

4. special measures will be extended to civil proceedings

5. abolition of the competence test, which currently prevents some children, and some adult witnesses (e.g. someone with a learning disability), from giving evidence at all, because they would not pass an initial test by the judge on whether they understand the difference between truth and lies.

The Act is comprised of 3 parts:

Part 1 - Criminal Proceedings

Part 1 (Criminal Proceedings) deals with evidential and procedural matters for vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in criminal proceedings. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 will be amended to define the categories of vulnerable witness and the special measures available. This part also provides for evidence of previous identifications and expert evidence regarding the subsequent behaviour of complainers to be admitted by the court in certain cases.

A discretionary power is also introduced to prohibit the accused from personally conducting his own defence in cases involving vulnerable witnesses.

This part has the following sections:

Evidence of children and other vulnerable witnesses: special measures

1 Evidence of children and other vulnerable witnesses: special measures

2 Consideration before the trial of matters relating to vulnerable witnesses

3 Evidence of vulnerable witnesses at proofs in relation to victim statements

Evidence of identification prior to trial

4 Evidence of identification prior to trial

Expert evidence as to subsequent behaviour of complainer

5 Expert evidence as to subsequent behaviour of complainer

Prohibition of personal conduct of defence in cases involving vulnerable witnesses

6 Power to prohibit personal conduct of defence in cases involving vulnerable witnesses

PART 2 - Civil Proceedings

Part 2 (Civil Proceedings) deals with evidential and procedural matters for vulnerable witnesses in civil proceedings. The Act also restricts the extent to which evidence can be led
regarding the character and sexual history of a witness in referrals from the children's hearing system.

This part has the following sections:

Evidence of children and other vulnerable witnesses: special measures

7 Interpretation of this Part

8 Orders authorising the use of special measures for vulnerable witnesses

9 Review of arrangements for vulnerable witnesses

10 Procedure in connection with orders under sections 8 and 9

11 Vulnerable witnesses: supplementary provision

12 Crown application and saving provision

13 The special measures

14 Taking of evidence by a commissioner

15 Live television link

16 Screens

17 Supporters

Establishment of grounds of referral to children's hearings: restrictions on evidence

18 Establishment of grounds of referral to children's hearings: restrictions on evidence

PART 3 - Miscellaneous and General

Part 3 (Miscellaneous and General) abolishes the competence test for all witnesses.

This part has the following sections:

Abolition of the competence test

19 Abolition of the competence test for witnesses in criminal and civil proceedings

Commencement and short title

20 Commencement and short title

Timeline

28/05/03 - Details of proposed Executive bill announced to Scottish Parliament.

23/06/02 - Executive bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

23/09/03 - Stage 1 Begins

13/11/03 - Justice 2 Committee endorses principles of bill

19/11/03 - Stage 1 debate in Scottish Parliament. The bill was passed at Stage 1.

20/11/03 - Stage 2 begins. Amendments can be lodged at Stage 2.

02/12/03 - The bill was passed at Stage 2.

03/12/03 - Stage 3 begins. Amendments can be lodged at Stage 3.

04/03/04 - Stage 3 debate. The bill is passed.

Further Information

  1. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
  2. Scottish Parliaments Justice 2 Committee Website
  3. Stage 1 Debate on Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Bill
  4. download now
  5. Vulnerable Witness Bill Research Briefing [S}
  6. Justice 2 4th Report 2003 (Session 2) [S]:
  7. Marshalled List of Amendments selected for Stage 3 of Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
  8. 1st Marshalled List of Amendments for Stage 2 Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
  9. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
  10. Amendments to Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3 lodged on 26/02/04
  11. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill Stage 2
  12. Scottish Parliament Official Report 04/03/04
  13. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill (as passed)
  14. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
  15. Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Bill