Guide for witnesses
Here's everything you need to know about being a witness at a committee.
Because of Covid-19, the Parliament has made some changes to how it works. One of these changes is the way committees might meet.
As well as meeting in the Parliament, committees can now have “virtual” or “hybrid” meetings.
A virtual meeting means the committee members are not in a committee room together. They might be in an office or at home. Witnesses join the meeting using video conferencing software.
A hybrid meeting means some people participating in the meeting, including witnesses, might be in a committee room. Others might join using video conferencing software.
The clerks will let you know what kind of meeting you will be giving evidence at. They can give you information on any changes that might happen as public health guidance changes.
This section has information on
- coming to the Parliament to give evidence
- giving evidence using video conference software
There is information in the rest of this guide on getting to the Parliament and how to prepare to be a witness.
Coming to the building for a hybrid meeting
You may be invited to come to the Parliament building as a witness in a committee meeting.
The Parliament is following public health guidance and you will see measures to keep everyone safe, like:
- hand sanitisers
- a one-way system to follow
- signs to show you where to go and stand
- a track and trace system for anyone coming into the building
- social distancing in place throughout the building, including the committee rooms
You should use the main public entrance to come into the building. Make your way to the Visitor Services desk where you'll be asked to give your contact information. There’s more information about getting here and into the building in the rest of this guide.
You do not need to wear a mask in the building, but you are welcome to.
You will be given a witness pass to wear. These have been cleaned and disinfected between uses.
You will be taken to the committee room and shown where to sit. Remember to keep your distance from the other people in the room. Water and disposable cups will be available.
When the meeting begins, it will look like a normal committee meeting but some of the members and witnesses will use video-conferencing to participate. There’s more information about giving evidence in a committee meeting in the rest of this guide.
Please do not touch your microphone – the broadcasting team will do that for you. Wait for the light on the microphone to go red before you start speaking.
If anything about your situation changes, like you or someone you live with starts to show Covid-19 symptoms or you have been told to self-isolate, please contact the clerks as soon as possible.
If there is anything else you are not sure of, please let us know. We will be happy to answer any questions that you have.
Technology for virtual and hybrid meetings
Virtual and hybrid committee meetings use software called Bluejeans. We cannot use other video conferencing systems like Skype or Facetime. This is because committee meetings are broadcast and have specific requirements.
You can use Bluejeans on any device, for example a tablet or a phone as well as a desktop computer. If you are using a desktop or Android device you do not need to download Bluejeans.
If you are using an iPad or other Apple device, you can install the Bluejeans app from the app store.
If you do use a handheld device, please make sure you have a tripod or somewhere to rest your tablet or phone. This is to make sure the picture is steady and you are comfortable.
The clerking team will send you a link for you to use to access the meeting. You will get 2 links: one is for a test which usually happens the day before the meeting. The other is for the meeting itself. The clerks will make it clear which link to use and when.
For Bluejeans to work you will usually need to have installed Chrome or Firefox.
If you have any technical issues, or cannot download Chrome or Firefox onto your device, please let the clerks know as soon as possible.
Before the meeting
Before you give evidence to a virtual or hybrid committee meeting, you will be asked to do a test call with our broadcasting team. You will be given a 2 hour time slot for your test to take place but the actual call will only take about 10 minutes.
In the call you will be able to test your connection and device. Broadcasting will make sure your sound is working and can advise on lighting and picture quality. They will talk you through how the meeting will work and what to expect on the day.
It is important that you are available for the test call. It is the best thing you can do to make sure you are comfortable during the meeting and the technology works well.
Background, lighting and sound
Broadcasting can give you advice on background, lighting and sound when you do your test call but here are some tips that might help.
If you can, use a headset connected to your device. If you cannot use a headset, you will be heard more clearly if you use an external microphone connected to your device. Try to keep it:
- in a fairly stable position
- pointing towards your mouth
- positioned where other things won’t muffle or interfere with your voice
Find a position where:
- you have a good internet connection (preferably with a wire connection to your router)
- you are eye-level with your camera and not too far away
- you don’t have light coming from behind you as this makes it harder for people to see you
- there is nothing in your background that you don’t want people to see
- there is little or no background noise
How virtual and hybrid meetings work
Although virtual and hybrid meetings look quite different, they have the same purpose as normal committee meetings. You are there to share your experience and help the committee with its work.
The clerks will let you know when you need to be available for the committee meeting. This is usually 30 minutes before the meeting officially starts.
The MSPs will already be waiting when you join the meeting. The convener will welcome you and explain how the meeting will work. This happens before the meeting is broadcast.
If you have any questions don’t wait until this point to ask. Let the clerks know at any time before the meeting if you’re not sure about something or need more information.
Speaking in a virtual or hybrid meeting
In a virtual meeting, the convener can’t see everyone at once. This means it’s hard to catch their attention if you want to speak, like you might in a normal committee meeting.
Because of this, the convener will ask you directly if you want to respond to the MSPs’ questions. If you think of something after the meeting that you want to add you can send it to the clerks later.
In the meeting the broadcast technician will turn your microphone and camera on and off.
Interruptions and technical problems
Sometimes technical problems happen. Don’t worry!
If you lose your connection during the meeting our IT team will contact you and try to get you back. The convener might “suspend”, or pause, the meeting while this happens. If your connection cannot be restored the meeting might finish early or continue without you.
Sometimes, sound quality is poor and it may be hard or impossible to hear what someone says. If that happens, you can ask them to repeat what they said, particularly if they were asking you a question. The Official Report will record that words were inaudible. You may also be asked to turn off your video and just contribute with sound.
The meeting might also be suspended if the convener loses their connection.
Sometimes you might be interrupted when you are giving evidence, for example by a doorbell, a pet, or someone you care for. If this happens, please do not worry. The convener may suspend if you need a few minutes, or you can ask to be excused to deal with the situation.
Questions, extra support and information
Before the meeting, clerks will be in touch with information to help you prepare. They are happy to help with any questions you have.
Because most of the clerks are not working in the building, you can contact them by email. They can then get in touch by phone if that’s easier for you.
If you have any additional support needs, or if there is anything they can do to make it easier for you to give evidence, please let them know.
How to prepare to be a witness
What it means to be a witness
Unlike a witness in a trial or court, a committee witness is another way of describing someone who wants to tell their story and give their opinions on a topic the committee is discussing.
There is no right or wrong way to be a committee witness. You're there to share your story, knowledge or expertise.
The best way to feel prepared about what might happen on the day is read through this guidance. If you'd like further information, you can contact the clerking team. They can explain the work the committee's doing and tell you who else might be sharing their views. They can also help if you have any specific accessibility requirements.
Other ways of sharing your views
It might be possible for you to share your views through a video link if required. You can let us know in advance if you want to do this by getting in touch with the clerk for your committee.
Sharing your views in another language
You can share your views as a witness at a committee in any language, including British Sign Language and Gaelic. Just let the committee clerk know if you’d like to do this, giving us as much notice as possible.
Bringing someone with you
You’re welcome to bring someone with you when you come to be a witness, and they can sit in the public gallery. They can get tickets from the Visitor Services desk in the Main Hall on the day or order tickets in advance.
On rare occasions a committee might ask you to share your views in private. If this happens and you'd like someone with you, speak to the clerks about what might be possible.
Being a witness
Before you come
Before you come you should:
- check out the work the committee is doing
- watch previous committees in action on the Parliament TV 'Video Archive' section
During your the committee meeting
When it's your turn to speak you should:
- focus your contribution on your areas of expertise
- not feel like you need to answer all the questions if you don't know the answer - focus on what you know
After the committee meeting
If you were not able to answer a question during the meeting, don’t worry. If you don’t have the information with you, you can send it to the clerks after the meeting.
Facilities and accessibility
Accessible facilities at the Scottish Parliament
Accessible facilities include:
- induction loops for those hard of hearing
- disabled and changing places toilets
- quiet space
- first aid room
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, some services might look different or be unavailable. Please ask Visitor Services for any help you might need.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockers are not available. If you need to, you can leave items with security when you arrive.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the crèche and breast feeding area are currently unavailable.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the crèche is currently closed.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cafe is currently closed.
How to get to the Scottish Parliament
Where the Scottish Parliament is
The Scottish Parliament is near Arthur's Seat and at the bottom of the Royal Mile, also known as the Canongate. It’s also opposite Holyrood Palace. The postal address is 'Horse Wynd' EH99 1SP.
Blue badge disabled parking is available on Horse Wynd, opposite the Parliament's main public entrance. Spaces are not bookable in advance as they’re managed by the City of Edinburgh Council.
Lothian Buses run one service that stops at the Parliament - the number 35 (Scottish Parliament stop).
Head to Checkmybus Edinburgh for other bus routes stopping a short walking distance away.
Public bike racks are available near the front of the building on Horse Wynd by the Holyrood Park visitor information centre and shop.
When you arrive
Going through security
Because we're a Parliament building, we have a bag check system at our public entrance. You’ll need to take off your coat and pass your bags through our scanner. Security might need to search you, but you can ask to do this in private if you feel more comfortable.
If you're running late
In case of busy periods, we usually suggest allowing 15-20 minutes to go through security. If you’re running late, tell the security staff in the main entrance and they’ll try to speed up your entry into the building.
If your meeting is before 8.30am
If you arrive before 8.30am and the building isn’t open to the public yet, call security using the square ‘CALL’ button on the right-hand side of the sliding door at the main entrance. Let them know that you’re there to be a witness at a committee meeting.
When you’ve gone through security, make your way to the Visitor Services desk. As you walk into the Main Hall, this is on the right-hand side.
Tell them you’re there to be a witness at a committee and you’ll be given a witness pass.
Someone will collect you to take you to the committee meeting room, or a waiting room.
When you're at the committee meeting
What to expect in the room
The MSPs will usually already be in the room and the meeting may have begun when you get there. You’ll have a name plate to indicate where to sit. Water will be provided on the table.
If you want to speak, you can gesture or catch the attention of the clerk or the convener. Wait for your microphone to go red before you start to speak.
Types of committee meeting
There are usually 2 types of committee meeting - roundtable and panel.
A roundtable meeting:
- can be more conversational
- might be held at the start of an inquiry to gather information
- has witnesses and committee members sitting together around the committee table
A panel meeting is:
- more of a question and answer format
- when witnesses sit at a separate end of the table to the members
Don't worry if you can't answer all the questions you’re asked at the time. If you're not sure of something, it's fine to email information to the clerking team after the session.
A committee in progress
List of possible committee attendees
Some of the following people will be sat at the table with you, others might simply be in the room, either at the side or in the public gallery. You can have a look at a committee room and the people in it before you go.
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs)
Committees are made up of MSPs from different parties. You can find out which MSPs you might see at your meeting on the committee page.
The committee clerks are your main point of contact. Clerks are there to support the committee by preparing and organising meetings. They sit next to the Convener to give them advice on procedures if needed. They'll be watching to see who wants to speak in a meeting so if you'd like to answer a question, catch their eye and they'll let the Convener know.
Official Report staff
Official Report staff produce the Official Report (OR) – a written record of each public committee meeting. After the meeting, if OR staff want to check something you said, such as the spelling of a name, they might pass you a note or speak to you.
The OR of your meeting will be published online, usually within a few days.
All public committee meetings are broadcast live online on the Scottish Parliament TV website. Broadcasting will also control your microphone. You don’t need to switch anything on or off.
Sometimes committees will have expert advisers for a piece of work. They’ll sit by the convener.
Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) researchers
SPICe are researchers who support committees and MSPs. For example, they write briefings for MSPs and give committees background information on inquiries.
Media Relations officer
Media Relations officers work with the media, and answer questions from journalists that might come out of a committee meeting.
Each committee has an Outreach Officer who helps to get communities involved in committee's work.
There will be members of the security team outside the door, and seated inside the room when a committee is meeting open to the public.
Each committee room has a public gallery. Members of the public can come and go during a public meeting.
Journalists often sit in the front row of the gallery and might take notes.
After the committee meeting
After the meeting, the committee can progress in a few ways. It can:
- publish a report with recommendations to the Scottish Government
- write a letter to take the issue further
- agree to consider the issue again in the future
Watch it on TV
After the meeting, and usually within a few hours, you’ll be able watch the meeting you were at on Scottish Parliament TV and also share clips on social media.
Read the Official Report (OR)
The Official Report, the written transcript of the meeting, is usually published within a few days. The OR publication schedule will tell you when.
You don’t need to worry about requesting this if you’d like a copy as you’ll be automatically emailed a link. You’ll have 20 days to suggest corrections to the report of what you said.
Claiming your expenses
You can claim expenses for for things like travel, food and childcare. To claim expenses, you must let the clerks know before you come. Keep hold of all your receipts and give them to the clerks on the day.
Ways to keep in touch
Your personal information
We treat all personal information, such as your name, contact details, and photographs with the highest level of privacy.
We’ve created a privacy notice about how we might use your information if you’re sharing your views at a committee meeting. There, you can also find information about children and young people under 16 speaking at a committee meeting.
You can also ask for further information under the Freedom of Information act.