This website is no longer being updated. Please go to GOV.SCOT

Child Witness Support Consultation Document





Recommendation 1: that in order to provide support services for young witnesses in a structure providing greater consistency and inter-agency accountability:

1.1 Child Protection Committees should appoint a subgroup to take forward operational support of young witnesses with terms of reference covering both criminal and children's hearing court proceedings and young witnesses in general, not solely those who are victims. Subgroup members should represent all key groups, including the judiciary.

1.2 Child witness officers should co-ordinate independent familiarisation services provided by trained employees of Child Protection Committees' member organisations. In less populated areas, this co-ordinating role may require only a part-time or shared position.

1.3 Those involved in child witness support and preparation should receive training on the standards set out in the protocol developed by the Child Witness Support Working Group, which describes the scope of appropriate preparation and emphasises the need to avoid doing anything to contaminate the child's evidence.

1.4 Child Protection Committee member agencies should contribute the time of staff acting as familiarisation workers, mileage and training costs and accommodation for the child witness officer, as in the model adopted by the Child Witness Co-ordination Group, a sub-group of the Area Child Protection Committee for Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

1.5 The Scottish Office should be invited to consider options for resourcing child witness officer co-ordinators and the necessary administrative support, including the possibility of partnerships with child welfare organisations. It is estimated that coverage of the 26 Child Protection Committees for Scotland could be achieved for 663,000 (based on 39,000 for a full-time co-ordinator with administrative support in eight Child Protection Committees, with the remaining 18 Committees being served by 18 half-time positions).

Recommendation 2: that in order to promote the "sensitive handling" and "desirable uniformity of approach" advocated by the Scottish Law Commission in its 1990 Report on the Evidence of Children and Other Potentially Vulnerable Witnesses:

2.1 The Scottish Courts Administration should consider the production of good practice guidance for judges and sheriffs on the management of young witness cases. Development of this guidance and training should take place in consultation with organisations that have specialist knowledge of young witness concerns.

2.2 The Lord Justice General should be invited to consider revision of his Memorandum and how to raise awareness of its provisions among the judiciary and practitioners.

2.3 The Scottish Court Service, in consultation with the Lord Justice General, should consider conducting a pilot to assess the feasibility of allocating criminal and children's hearing court procedures involving young witnesses to nominated and trained members of the judiciary.

Recommendation 3: that in order to ensure information about young witnesses is available to inform decision-making in the legal process:

3.1 Systematic procedures should be developed by all those involved in the criminal justice process and children's hearing court proceedings to gather and record background information about the child witness. This is likely to require the development of special forms and the revision of case discussion and case conference procedures.

3.2 Multi-agency training should emphasise the important contribution of background information about the child to planning for the trial or children's hearing court proceedings and the management of the child's evidence at court.

Recommendation 4: that, in order to prompt consideration of provisions in the Lord Justice General's Memorandum and to facilitate case management decisions:

4.1 A format should be agreed for a written child witness "report" for sheriffs and judges, to be provided by the Procurator Fiscal or reporter at a preliminary hearing where possible, and its implications discussed with the sheriff and defence or other agents.

4.2 The Scottish Court Service should ensure that the child witness report and reports in support of CCTV and screens applications are available to the trial judge or sheriff.

4.3 Where possible, the sheriff to conduct the trial or children's hearing court proceeding should be identified beforehand and invited to convene a meeting in chambers with the parties before the day of trial or children's hearing court proceeding to decide matters relating to the child witness.

4.4 In order to ensure continuity in the provision of information to the courts, the Lord Justice General should be invited to investigate the practicality of regulating the procedures for communicating information about young witnesses to the judiciary at interim diets, by way of Act of Adjournal.

Recommendation 5: that in order to improve the standard of questioning of young witnesses:

5.1 The Lord Advocate should consider inviting all those involved in the criminal and children's hearing court proceedings to collaborate on the development of guidance on the questioning of children in court.

5.2 The Director of Judicial Studies in Scotland should be invited to refer to such guidance in judicial training, in order to develop a more consistent approach to judicial intervention when questioning is deemed inappropriate.

Recommendation 6: that the Lord Advocate should raise these perceived anomaly with the Home Advocate depute with a view to their resolution.

Recommendation 7: that in order to improve the conduct of interviews and precognitions with young witnesses:

7.1 The Scottish Office should invite all relevant organisations to co-operate in the development of guidance on the conduct and recording of investigative interviews of children by police officers and social workers, on the basis that implementation of standard guidance would improve the quality and consistency of interviews and assist in reducing the need for others to re-interview the child about the circumstances of the alleged offence.

7.2 The Crown Office, Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and Scottish Children's Reporter Administration should develop consistent policies on the disclosure of police child witness statements and prosecution and reporter precognition, as greater certainty about disclosure may help to reduce the number of times that a young witness is interviewed.

7.3 The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration should indicate its policy as to when, if at all, reporters should precognosce young witnesses.

7.4 The Law Society of Scotland should develop guidance for solicitors on the precognition of young witnesses, for example, requiring contact only by prior appointment, conducting the precognition at a location of the child's and carer s choice, and ensuring that a supporter chosen by the child is present during the interview. This guidance should address practice where there is more than one accused. A complaints procedure should be established and brought to the attention of witnesses

7.5 The Law Society of Scotland should require solicitors to introduce safeguards to ensure that persons precognoscing young and vulnerable witnesses are screened, have appropriate skills and receive relevant training.

7.6 Where a solicitor uses an agent with specific skills and training to interview a young witness, the Scottish Legal Aid Board should consider authorising an enhanced fee for this purpose.

Recommendation 8: that in order to reduce the stress of young witnesses in relation to identification of the accused:

8.1 The recommendation of the 1990 Scottish Law Commission report on the Evidence of Children and Other Vulnerable Witnesses (paragraph 3.20) should be implemented -"(a) In any case, whether under solemn or summary procedure, where a report of an identification parade or of some other recognised identification procedure has been lodged as a production by the prosecutor, it should be presumed, subject to (b) below, that the person named in the report is the person of the same name in the complaint or indictment and answering the charge in court,

(b) The foregoing presumption should only arise where (i) the prosecutor has, not less than 14 days before the trial, served on the accused a copy of the report and a notice of intention to rely on the presumption, and (ii) the accused has not given notice of an intention to challenge the facts stated in the report by at least six days before the trial, or such later time before the trial as the court may in special circumstances allow

8.2 The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland should disseminate the checklists for the officer conducting the identification parade, the officer in charge of the investigation and for young witnesses attending parades and their carers, subject to their further evaluation by the Strathclyde Police.

8.3 The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland should explore ways to reduce further the trauma of children attending identification parades, including video recording the parade and showing it to the witness at some later point and allowing the witness to view the parade over a CCTV link.

Recommendation 9: that in order to improve the conduct of child witness familiarisation visits to the court:

9.1 The Lord Advocate should invite all those involved in the criminal and civil justice process to agree guidance on the conduct of familiarisation visits.

9.2 Persons conducting familiarisation visits should receive training based on this guidance which raises awareness of the concerns of young witnesses and their carers and the importance of being able to respond to their questions in a neutral way.

9.3 The Lord Advocate should invite judges and sheriffs to ask whether children have had a familiarisation visit and allow some time for this to take place if the child has not already seen a courtroom.

Recommendation 10: that in order to clarify the roles of those making decisions relating to therapy before court proceedings:

10.1 The Crown Office, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, social work departments, health boards and child welfare organisations should, in consultation with the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates, produce a code of practice addressing the provision of therapy before children give evidence.

10.2 The code should emphasise that decisions about the timing and need for therapy can only be taken by those responsible for the welfare of the child and that the interests of children in need of treatment are paramount.

10.3 The code should contain certain advice for therapists about how to avoid undermining children's credibility and reliability or influencing their memory of events or the account they give.

Recommendation 11: that The Scottish Office and Scottish Children's Reporter Administration should address the need for research focusing on children's hearing court proceedings.

Recommendation 12: that the Lord Advocate should consider inviting the relevant organisations to discuss publication and distribution of the booklet for parents and carers "Your Child is a Witness".

Recommendation 13: that NCH Action for Children and Children 1St should continue to consult with the relevant organisations in preparing the guidance on the support and preparation of child witnesses for publication.

Recommendation 14: that the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration should develop materials for children and their parents and carers in relation to children s hearing court proceedings.

Recommendation 15 : that I order to inform decision-making about the level of need and resource allocation, relevant agencies should jointly establish mechanisms for the collection and publication of statistics on:

15.1 The number of young witnesses in the criminal and children's hearing court proceedings system.

15.2 How long each organisation takes to process young witness cases at each stage of proceedings.

15.3 How often cases are rescheduled for diets and the reasons why this happens.

15.4 The incidence of forensic medical examinations and compliance with interagency policy on the manner in which they should be conducted.

Recommendation 16: that in order to facilitate the prioritisation of cases, relevant agencies should:

16.1 Agree a common definition of which young witness cases should receive priority.

16.2 Identify mechanisms for flagging up young witness cases to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment and to avoid delay at all stages.

16.3 Adopt a "culture of urgency" in which the priority status of young witness cases is highlighted on files and correspondence.