Opposition backing for reform of 'grotesquely complex' fatal accident inquiry system

The SNP could face pressure to commit to a reform of fatal accident inquiries after all opposition parties indicated a preference for the system to be changed.

MSPs could back reform of the Fatal Accident Inquiry system in Scotland.

Fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) investigate the circumstances of deaths such as those of people in custody, suicides, accidents, or major incidents such as the Glasgow bin lorry crash in 2014.

However, they have been criticised for being too slow and overly complex, leading to years of delays to investigations and families lacking closure around a loved-one’s death.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

It is understood all of Scotland's opposition parties, including the Scottish Greens who are in discussions with the SNP over a formal cooperation agreement, back reform of the system.

This comes ahead of an attempt by the Scottish Liberal Democrats to spark reform by inviting MSPs to back an amendment to a Scottish Government’s motion set to be discussed at a justice debate on Thursday.

The party argue that the current FAI system is “grotesquely complex”, with a "huge backlog” cases and families waiting years for answers and should be removed from the Crown Office’s responsibilities.

Liam McArthur, the party’s justice spokesperson, said: “The current set up in the Crown Office isn’t working. There needs to be a full and frank conversation about its reform.

“The Fatal Accident Inquiry system is grotesquely complex. It is utterly incapable of delivering timely justice. Too often it adds to the misery for the families of those involved. We need change so that those affected by tragedy get swifter closure, and lessons are learned.

“The system is in desperate need of reform. It is difficult to imagine the pain and frustration that loved ones must feel when such tragedy is followed by stagnant and silent investigations. But these delays also pose a danger to public safety. Without learning lessons, tragedies might be repeated.

“There’s no more time for tinkering round the edges on this. We need a commitment to a fundamental overhaul.”

The move to trigger reform could be backed by all opposition parties.

Scottish Greens justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman said: “It has been clear for some time that fatal accident inquiries can be unnecessarily complex and lengthy. The Scottish Greens believe that Fatal Accident Inquiries must prioritise the rights of workers and their families.

"We want to see reforms that enable quick identification of the failings of employers and regulators so that there is appropriate redress for those bereaved, and the opportunity to implement changes to prevent fatal accidents recurring.”

FAI reform is a key Scottish Conservative policy, with a party spokesman adding: “We will consider any proposals that come forward to improve the SNP’s soft-touch justice system and put victims first.”

It is also understood Scottish Labour are broadly in favour of such a move.

With investigations led by the procurator fiscal, FAIs are the responsibility of the Crown Office, headed by the Lord Advocate.

The Scottish Government is yet to announce a fresh appointment to the role following the recent resignation of the current Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC amid calls for the historic dual role of head of the prosecution service and chief legal advisor to the government to be split up.

All opposition parties have also called for a review of the role of the Lord Advocate.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Lord Advocate is constitutionally responsible for the investigation of sudden, unexpected and unexplained deaths in Scotland. These functions are exercised independently. Funding for the overall Crown Office budget has been increased in recent years to help to support the progress of these and other investigations.

“The Scottish Government has committed to consulting on the functions of the Lord Advocate and to continue to ensure that the Law Officers are not party political appointees.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.