Fatal Accident Inquiry process to be reviewed

An attempt to overhaul the way fatal accident inquiries are carried out in Scotland is being launched today.

The current system can cause further agony and grief to families already dealing with trauma, according to Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson.

She will open a public consultation on her Inquiries into Deaths Bill, which she hopes will improve the investigation of sudden and accidental deaths, while putting families at the heart of the process.

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“Unfortunately I have witnessed first-hand the devastation caused to families following the death of a loved one by the woeful system we have in place to carry out a fatal accident inquiry,” the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn MSP said.

“After suffering the trauma and heartache of losing a family member in sudden or unexplained circumstances it surely should not be too much to ask that the process for investigating this death does not cause further agony and grief.

“As my consultation highlights, there are many families who have had to fight the system, sometimes for many years, just to be granted the right for a fatal accident inquiry to be heard.

“They have felt excluded, exasperated and angered by a system which is simply not fit for purpose. I hope that through this consultation, we will create the foundations for a new system which will address these serious issues and provide a mechanism which allows families to understand what happened, why it happened and feel reassured that provisions are being made to prevent it happening again to someone else.”

The consultation, being launched in Glasgow, will run to November 22.

The Scottish Government says it is already committed to bringing in legislation to improve the system.

Changes to legislation are needed to speed up the process, according to Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

“In our experience inquiries, held in public to examine deaths at work, take an unacceptable amount of time for those who have lost loved ones to establish the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” he said.

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Patrick McGuire, a partner at personal injuries legal firm Thompsons Solicitors, said the draft Bill would provide legislation which is “badly lacking” in Scotland.

“The current system is utterly draconian and serves little purpose other than to rub salt in the wounds of families who have already suffered enormous tragedy,” he said.

“Scotland is crying out for a system which would examine fatal accidents in an open and transparent manner; place the families at the heart of the process; and has teeth to actually implement change for the better.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have committed to bringing forward a Bill to implement the recommendations of Lord Cullen’s Review of the Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament.

“Some of these recommendations were addressed to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and have already been implemented, including the establishment of a Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit.

“Investigating deaths is a highly sensitive and complex area of work, and it is vital that Procurators Fiscal investigate deaths thoroughly and professionally. The length of time taken to investigate will vary depending on the individual circumstances of each case.

“Lord Cullen did not recommend that sheriffs’ recommendations should be legally binding and there would be practical difficulties in doing so. The present system offers flexibility - some recommendations may have wider implications, while others may only be relevant to the circumstances of that case.”