Guide for witnesses
Here's everything you need to know about being a witness at a committee.
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
You can leave your bags with security, or you can use the lockers in the main hall. These use a £1 coin which you'll get back.
Child-friendly facilities include:
- breast feeding area
Crèche facilities include:
- child-level toilets
- baby changing facilities
- bottle warming
- breast-feeding area
- accessible toilet
How to book the crèche
You can book the crèche up to 2 weeks in advance.
Call 0131 348 6192
The cafe just off the main hall sells a range of drinks and meals, including gluten-free and vegetarian options.
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.