Scotland politics

MSPs back new approach to child victims of crime

Barnehus in Oslo
Image caption The aim is to make the environment secure and welcoming for victims

MSPs have urged the government to adopt a radical Scandinavian method of dealing with child witnesses and victims of sexual assault.

The Scottish Parliament's justice committee backed moves to use more pre-recorded evidence in court trials.

But they called on the Scottish government to go further and consider moving to the full Barnahus model.

It aims to offer treatment, as well as interview and support, for child victims and witnesses in one centre.

This would be away from the police station and court room.

Ministers want to reduce the stress and trauma of being involved in the legal system for victims and witnesses of crime.

They want to allow the use of pre-recorded evidence to avoid children having to go to court.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before the Scottish Parliament, would see greater use of evidence by commission in the most serious cases. This is where prosecution and defence lawyers interview vulnerable witnesses in advance of a trial and video recordings of the evidence can be presented in court.

The justice committee, which has been considering the bill, has approved this measure.

But it wants the government to go further and adopt the measures which are commonly used in Scandinavian countries such as Norway.

They allow a single forensic interview to be conducted as quickly as possible after the alleged offence.

The Norwegian Barnahus principle allows interviews to be conducted in child-friendly accommodation, with wellbeing support on hand.

Image caption The one-to-one interviews are recorded and can be watched remotely

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said this could avoid the stress of the original incident being exacerbated by the legal process.

The Tory MSP said the government's changes could be "more ambitious".

She said: "The committee is calling for the Barnahus principle to be fully introduced so that young people receive wraparound support through the whole legal and recovery process."

A Scottish government spokesman welcomed the committee's support for the principles of the bill.

He said: "If passed, far fewer child witnesses and vulnerable adults will have to give evidence in court during criminal trials by the greater use of pre-recording evidence in the most serious cases.

"Our initial focus for such significant reform is on those children for whom it can make the greatest positive impact - ensuring we do not overwhelm the system and risk making matters worse for the very people we seek to protect."

The spokesman said work was being done to work out if a Scottish version of Barnahus could be adopted.

He said: "We will carefully consider the committee's recommendations and look forward to the stage one debate on these important proposed reforms."

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