Child witness

If an allegation of child abuse or neglect proceeds to prosecution, the social work services staff should discuss with the police any concerns about the risk of further abuse or interference with witnesses in the case, so that such matters can be considered by the police and procurator fiscal when decisions are being taken by the court about bail and any conditions which may need to be attached to bail, if granted. The sheriff will decide whether to grant bail or not.

If an alleged perpetrator of abuse is to be prosecuted, child victims should always be provided with support and information and prepared for the experience of being a witness in court. The local authority and other agencies need to consider a range of issues if the child needs counselling or therapy before criminal proceedings are concluded. The needs of the child are paramount, and counselling should not be withheld solely on the basis of a forthcoming prosecution. Agencies must consider the potential impact of an unsuccessful prosecution or the impact of cross-examination of a child, and the implications for future protection of that child and others if a prosecution does not succeed.

Any therapeutic intervention must always be discussed with the procurator fiscal before proceeding and (National Guidance on therapeutic interventions in investigation). Where counselling does take place, the person(s) offering counselling may be called as a witness to explain the nature, extent and reasons for counselling. Any counselling support must focus around advice to keep the child safe and not be directly about the actual abuse as this may be viewed as rehearsing or corrupting evidence with a witness.

Welfare agencies workers should discuss this with the Procurator Fiscal so that he or she can be aware of the potential impact of such counselling on any criminal proceedings. In order to alleviate the stress for a child giving evidence special measures may be put in place, including a support person present, the use of screens to hide the accused from the child, or a live television link when the child is giving evidence. Attention should be paid to the vulnerable witnesses legislation and guidance.The child may also give evidence on commission.

For further information refer to:  Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Act 2004 and:

Special measures for vulnerable adults and child witnesses; a guidance pack (2005)