Children should not have to give evidence in court. The Scottish Government has committed to exploring the application of Barnahus through both its Programme for Government 2018-19 and the Equally Safe delivery plan – a Scottish and Local Government-led strategy which seeks to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls.
The Scottish Government believes that Barnahus provides an opportunity to design a genuinely child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma. As such, there is now a dedicated staffing resource within the Justice Directorate to take this work forward, based within the in the Violence Against Women and Girls and Barnahus Justice Unit. Further, officials have visited Iceland and London to hear the views and experience of those involved in the development and delivery of services, and to gather support for the concept.
A bill was introduced in Parliament in June 2018 regarding the use of pre-recorded evidence as a special measure for taking the evidence of child witnesses and other vulnerable witnesses in criminal proceedings. The adoption of this law would be an important step towards the ambition that children should not have to give evidence in court.
Barnahus was discussed in detail during the Justice Committee’s evidence sessions for this legislation. There was strong support for Barnahus amongst stakeholders and Committee members. There is also strong support for Barnahus from the Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is the head of the Judiciary in Scotland, and from the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, who is the deputy head of the Judiciary. Lady Dorrian has set out a vision for how Scotland could operate in line with Barnahus.
A key concern in investigating how the Barnahus concept could work in the Scottish context is balancing the child’s right to recovery from the point at which they disclose abuse and their right to access justice in a child-centred way, in line with the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ‘Getting it right for every child’, the Scottish national approach to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of children and young people.
“Learning from experiences in other parts of the world helps lawmakers to see the bigger picture. It provides a valuable opportunity and a sensible way to consider possible changes to laws.” Justice Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, remarks following a fact-finding visit to the Norwegian Barnahus.