The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the justice and children's hearings systems develop in a way that keeps pace with modern life and ensures appropriate support is in place for victims and witnesses to allow them to participate effectively in the process. It is widely recognised that child victims and witnesses can be particularly vulnerable, especially in the circumstances which lead to a joint investigative interview being necessary. When gathering information from children, who are often already extremely traumatised, we must ensure the interview is as child-focused and stress-free as possible.
Guidance on Interviewing Child Witnesses in Scotland was published in 2003. Since then, On the Record, an independent evaluation of two police and social work-led pilots undertaking visually recorded joint investigative interviews, established that there is no good reason why the majority of such interviews with children should not be visually recorded. To maintain momentum, the Scottish Government set up a multi-agency National Strategic Group to: revise the guidance to include visual recording of interviews ; purchase and roll-out visual recording equipment; and consider training requirements.
The work to introduce and develop visual recording of joint investigative interviews with child witnesses complements our ongoing work to support child and other vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence, and the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland which was launched on 13 December 2010. In particular, visually recorded accounts from child witness can be used as prior statements, an alternative way in which vulnerable children in the most serious cases can give their main evidence.
The revised Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland also promotes the latest best practice for police and social work practitioners undertaking JIIs with children. It makes clear that every decision made about interviewing a child must be made on the basis that the paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. The guidance continues to be based on the principle that every child has the right to protection from harm, abuse and exploitation. In the words of Kofi Annan:
"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace".
I firmly endorse this guidance as a step towards achieving that and would like to extend my thanks to all the agencies and individuals who have worked tirelessly, in partnership with the Scottish Government, in producing the revised guidance.
KENNY MACASKILL, MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice