World-first virtual courts to support victims of crime

A pioneering Scottish project uses VR headsets to allay fears and discomfort ahead of giving evidence in court.

Victims of crime can often find it daunting to give evidence. In some cases, appearing in court can be a retraumatising experience.

man in blue crew neck shirt wearing black vr goggles 

The new project aims to address this, and put the needs of victims at the heart of the justice system. A working prototype has already been set up at Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court in Glasgow.  

Ahead of giving evidence in the real court, victims of crime can prepare themselves by ‘walking’ through a 3D representation of the very same court building where their case will be held.  

The £500,000 project makes use of video footage of the building to produce a VR environment. Within this, it then depicts the people and objects that likely to be encountered, providing a realistic but safe practice run.  

At all times, victims and witnesses using the system will be supported by VSS volunteers. 

As well as VR, the system can be accessed by laptop, smartphone or tablet. In-person visits to the court will continue to be an option if that is what an individual prefers. Altogether, that means victims and witness have greater choice – and control – in how they prepare. 

Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, says the project, ‘has the potential to reduce anxiety and additional trauma.’ In addition, the system, ‘reduces the need to travel often long distances for victims to familiarise themselves with a new environment before experiencing it in real life.’ 

Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland (VSS), says that for some victims and witnesses giving evidence in court, ‘can cause as much anxiety as the crime itself.’ That’s why VSS, ‘strongly advocates for victims being able to give evidence remotely and in trauma-informed environments.’ 

The virtual court system is the result of a partnership between VSS and Immersonal, a company based in Northern Ireland which specialises in bespoke VR applications 

Funding of £393,000 had been provided by CivTech, which aims to drive innovation in the public and third sectors. A further £131,000 for the project provided by the Scottish Government is part of a wider commitment to supporting victims of crime.

The system will now be rolled out to further courts over the coming year, with the ultimate aim to make it available in all 52 criminal courts in Scotland. 

Earlier this year, it was announced that CivTech will receive £10m from the Scottish Government to support companies proposing tech-based solutions to public and third sector problems.

Photo by Maxim Tolchinskiy


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