Faculty announces major vulnerable witness conference
A host of star speakers with a wide range of expertise has been lined up for a major conference on vulnerable witnesses which is being staged by the Faculty of Advocates.
The event will feature Scotland’s two senior judges, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, and Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, and among those joining them will be Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Dame Joyce Plotnikoff and Dr Richard Woolfson, acclaimed researchers with a special interest in children and vulnerable adults in the justice system.
Radical changes in the way evidence is taken from children and vulnerable witnesses have been proposed in the report, “Evidence and Procedure Review – Next Steps” by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
The aim of these proposals is to ensure that the court process and those involved in it treat vulnerable witnesses in the way which will achieve best evidence and which will not cause them to endure further harm as a result. If implemented, they would have significant implications for the examination of vulnerable witnesses.
The Faculty’s conference, The Treatment of Vulnerable Witnesses in Scotland, is not restricted to members of the Bar and will be held in Parliament House on the afternoon of Friday, 17 June, and all day on Saturday, 18 June.
James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, said: “As we, in Scotland, address the way that we deal with vulnerable witnesses in the court process, it is right that we understand developments in other jurisdictions and consider what we can learn from them. This conference will, I hope, contribute significantly to the work which is being done by the Faculty and others with a view to ensuring that practice in Scotland is in line with best practice internationally.”
David Parratt, the Faculty’s Director of Education and Training, added: “This will be an important opportunity for all those with an interest in this area to discuss and explore potential next steps for our system and how we question witnesses with vulnerabilities and communication needs. The proposals would impact significantly on traditional advocacy techniques, particularly in cross-examination. The approach would require a completely new way of thinking e.g. departing from the traditional view that an accused’s position must always be put to a witness, or that unlimited cross-examination with closed questions is always going to be permitted by the court.
“These are challenging issues that the Faculty has already started to investigate, and we welcome the chance to speak with others and to learn from their experiences.”
The programme also includes talks by Professor Penny Cooper, co-founder and chair of “The Advocate’s Gateway”, part of the Advocacy Training Council, and Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, who conducts research on questioning and teaches forensic psychology at Liverpool University.
Frances McMenamin, QC, of the Scottish Bar, will address the rights of the vulnerable accused, and a conversation between Angela Rafferty, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, of the English and Scottish bars, will explore how the system works south of the Border.