Faculty’s major vulnerable witness conference judged a success

20 Jun

Left to right, Andrew Young, QC, who chaired the event, Lord Judge and Dame Joyce Plotnikoff.

A major conference on vulnerable witnesses staged by the Faculty of Advocates has been hailed as a success.

The event - The Treatment of Vulnerable Witnesses in Scotland -featured Scotland’s two senior judges, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, and Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, and was attended by a range of distinguished speakers.

They included Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Dame Joyce Plotnikoff and Dr Richard Woolfson, acclaimed researchers with a special interest in children and vulnerable adults in the justice system.

Lord Judge commented: “This was a valuable conference, organised at just the right time, to examine the sensitive issue of how vulnerable witnesses should be enabled to participate fully in the administration of justice without undermining fundamental principles which protect the interests of the defendants and other witnesses.

“The programme was carefully arranged and wide ranging.”

Joyce Plotnikoff said there had been “a genuine buzz” surrounding the event.

“It revealed a surprising degree of consensus that the current approach to children and vulnerable adults in the criminal justice system is not ‘fit for purpose’. This event signalled the potential for a sea change. The emphasis was on making the process more fair and just, whether the vulnerable person is a witness or the accused.

“Sessions were extremely constructive, indicating that a prerequisite for achieving change is now present – the commitment of practitioners at all levels. Delegates and speakers were keen to see this momentum taken forward.”

The programme also included 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 teaches forensic psychology at Liverpool University.

Frances McMenamin, QC, of the Scottish Bar, addressed the rights of the vulnerable accused, and a conversation between Angela Rafferty, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, of the English and Scottish bars, explored how the system works south of the Border.

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.