A virtual reality pilot project that ‘familiarises’ victims and witnesses with Scottish courtrooms before giving evidence in person was showcased at a European tech conference.

The immersive technology developed for Victim Support Scotland – as part of a government CivTech Challenge – got an outing at the Victim Support Europe (VSEConference in Berlin.

Sentireal, a company based in Northern Ireland, originally devised a pilot product based on its customised VR platform called ‘Immersonal’.

Victim Support Scotland and Sentireal attended the VSE conference in Berlin from 7-9 June to share the ground-breaking technology with victim support organisations from across Europe.  

Around 15 million serious offences, such as homicide, child sexual exploitation or sexual violence, were recorded in the European Union in 2017.

The European Commission’s objective is to ensure that all victims of crime can fully rely on their rights no matter where in the EU or in what circumstances the crime took place.

As part of steps to further develop the Immersonal solution for the Scottish justice system, Sentireal has received £500,000 in follow-on funding from the Scottish Government and Victim Support Scotland to roll out the tech across all Scottish courts.

Now, Sentireal’s VR-based solution will be presented at the Berlin conference with the potential of serving 72 VSE members in 35 countries offering different experiences based on culture and language.

Sentireal’s solution allows witnesses to experience through virtual reality a walk-through and interaction of the actual court building where they are expected to give evidence in criminal cases. 

Delivered through a virtual reality headset and remotes, the entire experience is controlled by the witness who can interact with court staff through pre-programmed actors featured in the walk-through, and prepare themselves as best as possible for the court experience ahead of stepping into it for real.

A working prototype of the solution has been developed for the Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court in Glasgow, with plans afoot to roll out the solution across all Scottish courts over the next year.

Michelle Rennie, head of business performance and planning, Victim Support Scotland, said:“Victims of crime tell us that going to court can be an intimidating experience and often more traumatic than the crime itself.

“From going through the front door of the court, to navigating where to go and to the point of giving evidence, Victim Support Scotland offers a range of support all across Scotland.

“Through the Sentireal Virtual reality solution, Victim Support Scotland is able to offer a fully immersive court familiarisation visit that helps allay fears and support people to give their best evidence. This is one way where we can help support people ahead of their visit to court.”

Tom Houston, CEO, Sentireal said: “It’s incredible that not only is the technology we have just showcased at CivTech Demo Day in February 2023 being rolled out across courts in Scotland to support victims, but we’re also now heading to Berlin to speak to dozens of European nations about the benefits it could bring to their countries too.

“This is a great opportunity and we’re proud to be attending with Victim Support Scotland who along with the Scottish Government have really championed the impact that Immersonal can have to support victims going through such a difficult experience like giving evidence in court.”