FAI recommendations may become binding
RECOMMENDATIONS from fatal accident inquiries could be made legally binding following a review by one of Scotland's most senior legal figures.
Lord Cullen, who is leading the biggest ever reappraisal of FAIs, will today launch a major public consultation that could bring sweeping changes to the system.
Fatal accident inquiries, held in Scotland for more than 100 years, are judicial investigations into sudden or suspicious deaths aimed at establishing the circumstances and learning lessons.
But in recent years there has been growing concern about the time taken for FAIs to be held – in some cases as long as five years – amid fears the system is ill-equipped for the 21st century. Another concern is that recommendations from sheriffs conducting inquiries are being ignored by companies and public bodies, putting more lives at risk.
The review follows a campaign by the disability charity Enable Scotland to introduce monitoring or enforcement of FAI recommendations.
The Scottish Government announced in March that Lord Cullen would review the inquiry system. Yesterday, the former lord president who conducted the Piper Alpha and Dunblane inquiries said he would consider various options to increase compliance with inquiry recommendations, including making them legally binding, and raising them in the Scottish Parliament.
Lord Cullen told The Scotsman: "There is a range of possibilities. We are concerned about whether there are complaints and what the arguments are. We would like to hear from those individuals who have concerns."
The consultation will also seek views on whether a separate tribunal should be created to handle fatal accident inquiries. The consultation document says: "It has been said that all FAIs should be taken out of the sheriff court and assigned to some form of tribunal dedicated to the conducting of FAIs.
"Some have said that the court setting is over-formal, and that the proceedings frequently are over-elaborate, and tend to be adversarial and intimidating for witnesses and relatives."
The review will also consider whether to extend FAIs to include children in care, road accidents, drugs overdoses and the deaths of Scots overseas. Currently, the deaths of Scottish service personnel are dealt with under the English inquest system.
However, talks are under way between Holyrood and Westminster to enable Scottish courts to hear the cases.
Lord Cullen is also likely to consider ways to speed up the system. In 2007-8, only four of the 34 mandatory FAIs were held within the target 24 weeks.
He added: "There's no reason to think the system has broken down. But there are complaints and concerns."
Sister hits out over 'crazy' review system
BETTY Mauchland says the inquiry into the death of her brother, Jimmy, highlights all that is wrong with the system.
Jimmy, 56, had learning difficulties and died after an accident in hospital in December 1999. His injuries went undiagnosed for several weeks and he died the next month.
It took three years for the sheriff conducting the fatal accident inquiry to issue 21 recommendations aimed at avoiding similar tragedies. Betty, 59, from Perth, said: "The whole process left me thinking 'what was the point of going through that?' At the start, I didn't know recommendations weren't legally binding.
"It took nearly three years for the recommendations to be made public. I had to deal with five procurator fiscals. They never contacted me, I always had to contact them.
"If I hadn't had the backing of the charity Enable, I wouldn't have had any representation at all because of the cost. For something that's not legally binding, I find it crazy.
"I probably still would have gone through the process – because I feel so strongly that I want it changed."
She added: "Our inquiry was high-profile and there has been a lot of political work to implement recommendations, but it's been very ad hoc.
"If the review isn't going to make recommendations legally binding, then perhaps it's time to take it out of the courts system altogether."
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