Calls for reform as some Fatal Accident Inquiries in Scotland still unresolved after ten years

Some fatal accident inquiries in Scotland are still unresolved after a decade, sparking calls for reform of the system.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found the longest wait for a fatal accident inquiry instructed that remains outstanding dates back to 2012/13 and runs to 3,427 days. Ten inquiries more than five years old remain outstanding.

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.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur branded such inquiries “next to useless and an insult to families”.

Liam McArthur has called for reform of the Fatal Accident Inquiry system.

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The party is now calling for the Scottish Government to remove such inquiries from the remit of the Crown Office and set a one-year timeline for them to commence.

For cases which do not commence within 12 months, the investigating body would be required to provide a report to the Government and to relatives of the deceased outlining why this has occurred.

As of October 28 last year, the FOI found the longest outstanding wait for a fatal accident inquiry where the deceased was in custody dates back to 2014/15 and runs to 2,678 days, while the average length of time it took to conclude a fatal accident inquiry completed in 2020/21 was 1,018 days, or almost three years.

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Mr McArthur said: “The fatal accident inquiry system should be about offering closure for families and learning lessons for the future. A system that takes almost ten years to come to its conclusions is next to useless and an insult to families.

“Across Scotland families are desperate for answers about the fates of their loved ones, but after a decade evidence is lost and memories fade.”

He added: “The Scottish Government have had plenty of opportunities to reform fatal accident inquiries, but they have clung to a failed system. It is time FAIs were removed from the remit of the Crown Office and handed to a new body charged with ensuring that inquiries begin within a year and results are presented in a timely fashion.”

The Scottish Government said it would not consider further reform of the system for FAIs.

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A spokesperson said: “The Lord Advocate is constitutionally responsible for the investigation of sudden, unexpected and unexplained deaths in Scotland. These functions are exercised independently.

"The Crown Office has significantly reformed the arrangements for the investigation of deaths.

“These reforms have already resulted in reductions in the duration of death investigations and it is expected that they will continue to do so. Parliament considered and modernised the law on FAIs in 2016 and there are no current plans to revisit the legislation.”

One of the most recent FAIs announced to take place in Scotland was for a crash on the M9 that led to death of Lamara Bell and John Yuill. Ms Bell, 25, and her partner Mr Yuill, 28, died after their car lay undiscovered following a crash on M9 motorway near Stirling in 2015.

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Police Scotland were fined £100,000 after admitting failings which “materially contributed” to the deaths of the pair.

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