PIONEERING virtual technology is being used to help victims and witnesses familiarise themselves with giving evidence in court.

The £500,000 programme will allow people to don virtual reality headsets and “walk through” a courtroom ahead of having to go and give evidence.

Cutting-edge software has been used so that people can experience the courtroom environment ahead of their case being called.

Scottish Justice Secretary Angela Constance, who saw a demonstration of the new technology, said it “could prove transformative”.

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She added that the “unique” scheme had the “potential to reduce anxiety and additional trauma” for those who have to give evidence in court.

The project has been developed by Victim Support Scotland (VSS), Northern Ireland based tech firm Immersonal and CivTech, which brings together the economic and digital directorates of the Scottish Government in what is said to be the world’s first successful public-sector-focused innovation accelerator.

A working prototype for both Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court in Glasgow has already been developed, with wider development and rollout of the initiative planned over the next year.

Speaking about the scheme, Constance said: “We continue to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, their needs are an absolute priority.

“However victims and witnesses can naturally find giving evidence a daunting prospect. 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.”

The Justice Secretary added that the project was part of wider work by the Scottish Government which has seen more than £93 million invested over the past five years towards helping victims.

Kate Wallace, the chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, welcomed the new initiative, saying: “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.

“This virtual reality experience will provide just that and can be accessed through a headset available with the help of volunteers from Victim Support Scotland, as well as through laptops, smart phones and tablets thereby offering more choice and access about how to prepare for court at a time and place that suits the victim.”