Scottish courts deploy VR to help prepare witnesses

Tech headsets will be used to enable those giving evidence to experience a virtual environment

Courts in Scotland are to deploy virtual reality technology to help those giving evidence prepare for the experience.

Backed by more than £500,000, a Scottish Government project has created a prototype that will allow victims and witnesses to use a VR headset to explore and interact with a virtual recreation of Glasgow Sheriff Court and High Court before the case in question goes to trial.

The plan is to adapt the technology, provided by specialist firm Immersonal, and roll it out for use at other courtrooms around the country, with the government hoping to ultimately make virtual visits available for all 52 Scottish criminal courts.

The virtual environment – which can also be accessed via a standard laptop or mobile device – will feature “depictions of the people and objects [those giving evidence] can expect to encounter when they go to court”. The aim is to enable “people to familiarise themselves with what can be an unfamiliar, daunting and often retraumatising environment”.

The project is being supported by charity Victim Support Scotland (VSS) and CivTech – the Scottish Government’s multimillion-pound accelerator scheme for developing technological solutions to public-sector challenges. CivTech has contributed £393,000 to the virtual courts programme, which has been topped up by £131,000 of additional public money.

VSS volunteers will support users of the technology throughout their virtual visit, while in-person preparatory visits to courtrooms will also remain available to witnesses.

Scottish Government cabinet secretary for justice and home affairs Angela Constance said: “This unique project, using innovative technology to support and prepare victims for attending court, could prove transformative. It has the potential to reduce anxiety and additional trauma, and also reduces the need to travel often long distances for victims to familiarise themselves with a new environment before experiencing it ‘in real life’. We hope that this will reduce retraumatisation and anxiety, supporting victims to give the highest quality evidence.”

Chief executive of Victim Support Scotland Kate Wallace added: “Victims and witnesses often tell us of the retraumatising effects caused by giving evidence in court and that it can cause as much anxiety as the crime itself. Victim Support Scotland strongly advocates for victims being able to give evidence remotely and in trauma-informed environments.”

Sam Trendall

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